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TN Lawmakers Hope to Help Ex-Offenders Get A 'Fresh Start'

MEMPHIS, Tenn. ( - A bipartisan group of state lawmakers hopes to cut down on the number of repeat prison offenders. The members plan to do it with a bill they call the Fresh Start Act.

13,000 felons are released yearly from Tennessee jails and prisons but finding a job can be difficult. Finding jobs for felons is what Eric Evans does in Nashville.

“We provide character building, career development, life skills, anything to help be a better man,” says Evans.

Now state lawmakers want to help in their own way.

“They pay their debt to society. They leave their incarceration. Then they are punished a second time,” says Sen. Kerry Roberts, a Republican sponsor.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers say too many felons commit crimes again. The group thinks it has a way to cut into that rate.

“What better way to make sure they don't return to prison than to give them licensure, so they can get a job and take care of their families,” says Sen. Lee Harris, a Democrat sponsor.

110-types of jobs and trades in Tennessee need licenses. Part of the Fresh Start Act states that "a licensing authority shall not deny an application for a license.... solely or in part due to a prior criminal conviction that does not directly relate to the applicable occupation.”

The lawmakers say that right now, almost every licensing board can deny a license due to a criminal past.

“This idea, this strategy, will remove a huge barrier from some of those citizens,” says Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Democrat Sponsor.

Lawmakers say felons who did their time for drug-related crimes are the most likely to benefit from the Fresh Start Act. The seriousness of a crime, along with the passage of time, would be other considerations for either denying or granting a job license that could help a past felon stay out of prison again.

The Fresh Start Act also would allow felons to see up front what crimes might keep them from getting a license.

The bill is expected to wind its way through the committee system within a week or so.

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