JEFFERSON CITY — Peggy Albers introduced herself to a Senate committee as “one of the worst of the worst that you guys would probably ever meet.”
“I’ve been in more prisons in the United States than you can really believe,” Albers, a real estate agent from Lake Ozark, told the General Laws Committee during a hearing Tuesday. She was testifying in favor of a bill that would make it easier for people with criminal records to get professional licenses.
Albers said she got a chance to turn her life around when she applied for her real estate license. It wasn’t easy; her first application was denied because of her criminal record.
But her father told her she had done her time and it was time to fight for herself, Albers said. She got a lawyer and managed to get a probationary license.
Albers was told selling three to five properties in your first year is a sign you may have a knack for the profession. She sold 35 and made over $100,000. Her income has increased each year, and she now owns four businesses and has five employees.
Albers spoke in support of SB 647, known as the Fresh Start Act, which she said could help other people who are trying to get their lives back on track and stay out of prison.
“Everybody deserves the chance to be the best that they can be,” she said.
She noted that many people in prison don’t have family support like she did that can help them overcome initial barriers and prevent them from turning back to crime.
“When you get turned down right off the bat, it’s easy to do the wrong thing,” Albers said.
The bill changes Missouri law to restrict the reasons people with criminal records can be denied professional licenses. Current law allows license denial for crimes related to fraud, dishonesty, violence or “moral turpitude.”
Sen. Andrew Koenig, the bill’s sponsor, said that nearly one in four jobs in Missouri requires a license. Koenig, R-Manchester, believes the decision of whether a criminal conviction is disqualifying should be left to employers rather than the government.
The list of dozens of professions the bill would affect includes architects, athlete agents, barbers, dietitians, social workers, family therapists, massage therapists, optometrists and tattoo artists, according to the bill summary.
The bill would only allow licensing organizations to deny people for certain very serious crimes — including murder, sex crimes and crimes against children — as well as crimes that are directly related to the duties of the profession.
For example, the bill says delivery of a controlled substance could disqualify veterinarians and nursing home administrators, among others. Crimes involving fraud could disqualify people from a longer list of professions including private investigator, land surveyor, embalmer, architect and chiropractor.
The bill does not apply to some professions, according to the summary, including law enforcement officers, podiatrists, dentists, physicians, surgeons, pharmacists and nurses.
Members of the public, including those from various local chambers of commerce, religious groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, testified in favor of the bill, arguing it could help reduce recidivism and barriers to employment.
The only slight critique by a member of the public came from a representative of the Division of Professional Registration, who said he was in favor of the bill but was working with the sponsor to ensure that people who had committed serious crimes but been convicted of a lesser offense because of a plea bargain could still be denied licenses.
Senators on the committee also had many technical questions about the bill and who it covers. Sen. Doug Libla in particular worried that it could allow bus drivers with criminal records to transport children. Koenig said bus drivers are not affected by the bill.
Sen. Bill Eigel, the committee chair, originally said that he planned to hold a vote immediately after the public hearing because an identical version of the bill passed the Senate at the end of last year but ran out of time to make it through the House.
In light of the senators’ questions, Eigel postponed the vote but moved into executive session to vote on several other bills.
SB 589, a bill creating additional barriers to “sanctuary” policies in Missouri, passed along party lines, with the two Democrats on the committee voting against it.
SB 710, which would make it easier for first responders to file workers’ compensation claims for post traumatic stress disorder caused by their jobs, also passed by a vote of 5-2.
A bill to ban call spoofing passed unanimously, though Libla noted he was “skeptical” that the bill would be effective.