April 21, 2023

Saving Taxpayer Dollars and Reducing Recidivism Through Occupational Licensing Reform

­­Background: The cost of recidivism and upholding the status quo

In fiscal year (FY) 2018-19, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) released 29,242 people, and 6,542 (22 percent) returned to prison within three years. The state spent an estimated $185 million to reincarcerate them in FY 2021-22.

If the state had enacted some of the reforms mentioned below, Florida Policy Institute found* that it could have yielded fiscal savings ranging from $60.8 million to $152 million during FY 2020-21 and FY 2021-22.

What is occupational licensing? 

Governments establish qualification requirements that people need to meet in order to practice a trade or professional occupation. 

How does Florida compare to other states? 

Florida ranks fifth nationally for having the most burdensome requirements for occupational licensing.[1] This means that Florida has, on average, more mandated hours of training, fees, and a greater share of occupations that are regulated.

Who is the most impacted? 

Floridians with past criminal records are disproportionately impacted by Florida’s occupational licensing laws. For example, there are roughly 379 occupational licensing laws and regulations that restrict or ban people with past convictions from accessing certain social and economic opportunities.

Florida Policy Institute found that enacting common-sense occupational licensing reforms could have yielded fiscal savings ranging from $60.8 million to $152 million during FY 2020-21 and FY 2021-22.

What barriers do people with past convictions face?

  • Lifetime bans and disqualifying periods
  • Moral character clause: bestows licensing boards with broad discretionary power to disqualify applicants with criminal pasts based on their moral character
  • Court fines and fees: applicants who are pursuing a license in the financial service industry must pay all related fines, court costs and fees, and court ordered restitution.

Why is reform needed? 

Reforming Florida’s occupational licensing policies would help people with criminal records participate in the state’s economy by having stable and gainful employment. It would help decrease the state’s re-arrest and recidivism (returning to prison) rates.[2] Less taxpayer dollars would be used towards reincarceration.

What are some reforms that policymakers could undertake?

  • Reduce the required training hours for certain occupations 
  • Eliminate the moral character clause
  • Allow for criminal records to be used as grounds for the denial of licensure only if the past conviction is directly related to the profession

*Download fact sheet to view methodology


[1] Dick M. Carpenter II, Ph.D, Lisa Knepper, Kyle Sweetland, and Jennifer McDonald, “License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing,” Institute for Justice, 2017, https://ij.org/report/license-to-work-2/.

[2] Vittorio Nastasi and Samuel R. Staley, “Bridging the Divide: Licensing and Recidivism,” James Madison Institute, 2019, https://www.jamesmadison.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/PolicyBrief_LicensingRecidivism_v02.pdf.

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