RALEIGH — The legislature has given final approval to a bill that will allow formerly incarcerated people to earn a certificate that enables them to apply for professional licenses that convicted felons had been prohibited from getting.
The Senate unanimously passed the bill Wednesday, 50 to 0, about two weeks after the House approved it 116 to 1. It now awaits signature into law by Gov. Bev Perdue.
The legislation, sponsored by W. David Guice, a Republican from Brevard, aims to help keep former criminals out of trouble by removing barriers that prevent them from finding a decent job. Former offenders have about a 50 percent chance of returning to prison within three years of their release, according to the state's sentencing commission, costing taxpayers about $27,000 per inmate a year.
Steady employment is critical in determining whether a formerly incarcerated person will commit another crime or become a productive member of society, Guice said.
The legislation includes a number of conditions that former offenders would have to meet before they are granted a court-sanctioned certificate that makes them eligible to apply for professional licenses. Under current law, anyone convicted of a felony in North Carolina is prohibited from obtaining licenses for about 700 occupations, including barbering, nursing and pest control.
Dennis Gaddy, director of the Community Success Initiative, a nonprofit agency in Raleigh that lobbies the legislature on behalf of ex-offenders, said passage of the bill is "going to make a lot of things happen."
In addition to clearing away hurdles to employment for the former inmates, Gaddy said the new law would also make them more accountable by giving them more incentive to stay on the straight and narrow.
Gaddy also predicted that the new law would create new support programs for the formerly incarcerated: mentors, faith-based networks, new substance abuse and anger management classes.
Ultimately, Gaddy added, it's about helping the former inmates become productive.
"Jobs and licenses," he said. "That's the greatest deterrent there is."
The bill was co-sponsored by Elmer Floyd, a Democrat from Cumberland County, and garnered bipartisan support from lawmakers, law enforcement and nonprofit groups.
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