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State lawmakers vote to lower career barriers for Delawareans with criminal records

Sarah Mueller
Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers voted last month to open the door for some residents with criminal records to begin careers in high-demand fields.

State Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown’s bill forbids professional licensing boards from turning away applicants because of certain types of criminal records. “This bill removes those barriers to the maximum extent consistent with public safety," she said. "It identifies certain kinds of criminal history elements that should not be considered by licensing boards such as charges that are pending and did not lead to a conviction; juvenile charges; records that have been expunged, sealed or pardoned; and convictions that are more than 10 years old.”

In practice, state Rep. Ruth Briggs-King says current restrictions mean people with criminal records are often barred from working in high-demand fields. She cited her own experience as chair of a real estate organization in Sussex County. “It would not be unusual to receive a letter from an inmate stating that they would like to have a career in real estate," she said, "and to have to write back that although they aspire to do this, Delaware law is going to prohibit you from ever becoming a licensed real estate agent in the state.”

Lawmakers made some exceptions, retaining licensing restrictions for people convicted of sex crimes and allowing consideration of convictions for financial crimes – an exception relevant in fields like real estate in which financial management is a key responsibility.

The bill marks the latest bipartisan effort in the General Assembly to lower some reentry barriers; this year, lawmakers also voted to scale back some fines and fees imposed on people convicted of crimes, and to prohibit higher education institutions from inquiring about applicants’ criminal histories, with exceptions for crimes like stalking and rape.

The bills still await a signature from Gov. John Carney.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.