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Hogan orders review of bars to employment for ex-offenders

Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday he's ordered a review of state rules that make it hard for ex-offenders to get jobs.

The governor said he is forming a work group to study every regulation and law in Maryland that penalizes people with criminal records after they serve their time — rules that make it hard for people with criminal records to get professional licenses or student loans.

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Hogan said he wants to identify which provisions, which he referred to as "collateral consequences," are unnecessary or could be eased.

"These consequences have a lasting impact, making it more difficult for ex-offenders to re-enter society, find a job, and fully engage in the community," Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement.

The work group will be led by Christopher Shank, a Republican former state senator who now heads the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention. Hogan gave the group until Dec. 1, 2016, to present its findings.

Shank said there are a lot of restrictions that make sense, and the commission will likely keep many of them.

"If somebody has a record of embezzlement or theft, you don't want them to become an accountant or deal with a vulnerable population," he said. But he was struck by the sheer volume of restrictions on people who have misdemeanor drug possessions that could linger on their records for decades.

"That weight of collateral consequences that conspires against people who are trying to re-enter society makes it overwhelming," Shank said.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat, predicted the General Assembly session that begins in January will be awash with legislation aimed at helping former offenders or softening penalties on drug crimes.

"People are realizing that incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders has not been effective" and takes a toll on society, Busch said. "The irony is that Republicans from the national level on down have started talking about it. Democrats have been talking about it for years."

A study by the American Bar Association found Maryland has 1,013 so-called "collateral consequences" to convictions on the books. A controlled-substance offense, for example, can bar someone from becoming a school bus driver and bar participation in some government programs.

That tally of consequences may overstate how many barriers for re-entry exist for ex-offenders because this list includes provisions such as revoking professional licenses for malpractice convictions.

Hogan's announcement comes the day before another state panel is set to release recommendations on how Maryland can save money by giving shorter prison sentences to drug offenders, sending fewer people to prison and preventing people from returning to jail on other offenses.

The governor signed a law this year that allows people to shield minor criminal record from public view after petitioning a judge. The law, dubbed the Second Chance Act, was designed to make it easier for people with low-level offenses to get jobs.

But Hogan also vetoed a law that would have restored voting rights to felons upon release, instead of waiting until after they completed probation or parole. Democrats and some Republicans anticipate the legislature will attempt to override that veto.

"How can we even start that re-entry conversation if we don't give them a stake in the community?" asked Del. Cory McCray, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the voting rights bill. "The best handout you can give is the opportunity to vote because that puts you on an equal playing field."

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