New Criminal Conviction Licensing Laws at TDLR

The Texas legislature, being concerned with barriers to eligibility for occupational licenses by persons who had been convicted of criminal offenses unrelated to their license, passed H.B. 1342 this session. On June 10, 2019, Governor Abbott signed that bill into law and it will go into effect on September 1, 2019.

This bill substantially modifies the ability of persons seeking licenses from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (“TDLR”) to obtain occupational licenses. Given that TDLR regulates 39 general licensed occupations, with a host of license categories in each of these occupations, the revisions contained in H.B. 1342 are not insignificant.

H.B. 1342’s revisions include (i) forgiveness for license revocations that are due solely to non-payment of penalties under a previous agency order and who is now paying and in good standing; the creation of “restricted” licenses for persons who would otherwise have their occupational licenses revoked, suspended, or denied; and (iii) the ability to have persons supervise certain restricted licensees in specific occupations.

Very importantly, H.B. 1342 also codifies the legislature’s express intent “to enhance the opportunities for a person to obtain gainful employment after the person has (1) been convicted of an offense; and (2) discharged the sentence for the offense.” It states that Chapter 53 of the Texas Occupations Code shall now be “liberally construed to carry out” that intent.

H.B. 1342 changes the standard of evaluation of whether a criminal conviction directly relates to a licensed occupation and establishes a two-step system for making that determination. Currently (and effective through 9/1/19), the “factors” for determining that a criminal conviction was related to an occupation were contained in two separate sections with little guidance on how each section should be evaluated. Under H.B. 1342, Section 53.022 and 53.023 of the Texas Occupations Code break these factors out, identifying first that the conviction relates to a license and second the “additional factors” to consider after the relational determination is made.

In another significant change, H.B. 1342 no longer requires a licensee defending his or her license to obtain certain letters of recommendation. Specifically, under the new law, a licensee will no longer be required to obtain letters of recommendation from (i) prosecutors and law enforcement officers who may have arrested the licensee; and (ii) a sheriff or chief of police. Given these parties’ involvement of the licensee’s arrest, such letters were routinely difficult to obtain and, frequently, such persons would refuse to provide such letters. In certain cases, these items would be determinative in the revocation of a license.

While all of the revisions in H.B. 1342 are beyond the scope of this brief discussion, these changes are likely to increase the ability of Texas citizens to obtain and retain occupational licenses following a criminal conviction while at the same time keeping licensing safeguards in place. It is important that any licensee and any prospective licensee review these changes before applying or renewing a license with TDRL.