New law eases occupational license barriers

Omari Amili knows what prison is like. He served time for 30 bank fraud felonies. Now he speaks to those still serving their time.

“There is pessimism about the opportunities that society will provide but they haven’t given up on themselves.”

When he got out, he wanted to be a drug and alcohol counselor - but feared his record would keep him from getting a license from the state.

“There was nothing that told me this was an option that the state of Washington was actually going to approve my application. So, I was so scared. I never applied,” Amili said.

In fact, a criminal conviction can be a barrier to professions like manicurist and cosmetology that may have nothing to do with the crime someone committed.

Amili did go to college, ended up getting associates, bachelor’s and master’s degrees Now he works for non-profits and mentors people still behind bars.

“I can let them know, look, I’ve been in your shoes before. And I used education as a way to climb out and employment as a way to climb out.”

He testified in support of the legislation signed by Governor Inslee today. HB 1399 reduces the barriers for licenses for jobs like cosmetologist, manicurist, tattoo artist, real estate brokers and funeral directors. Now there are no automatic rejections based on criminal history.

“If you have your license process, and you eliminate the barriers there then there’s nothing stopping you from starting your own business where you don’t even need anyone else’s permission to make a living,” Amili said.

Because a disproportionate number of Black and brown people are behind bars, the new rules will have a positive impact.

“This is going to mean that there are more people who get out knowing that things are changing in society, that it doesn’t have to be this dead end,” Amili said.

Getting a license won’t be automatic, a licensing board can still disqualify a person if their crime they’ve committed is related to the profession they are trying to enter.