An advocate says a new law that began as a Missouri House bill is a “game changer” for people trying to establish new lives after felony convictions.
The legislation eliminated a prohibition on those with felony convictions working in places which sell lottery tickets. It also lifted the requirement that businesses who sell alcohol report to the state when they hire someone with a felony. The changes have been sponsored for several years by Hallsville Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch, and was signed into law this summer and took effect August 28.
She said it’s about worker freedom.
Dan Hanneken is the Executive Director of In2Action, a program that helps people transition out of prison. He says the most important factor in a convicted felon not returning to prison is their ability to find employment.
“This particular bill might only effect maybe ten percent of the people that we serve, but the level of impact it will make on the ten percent of people will be a complete game-changer for them when they can re-enter the workforce,” said Hannekan.
“What we want is felons … to work. We need them to be self-supporting and we need them to support their families,” said Toalson Reisch. “They want to work, and this gives them more opportunities to go out and get entry-level jobs, work their way up, give them experience, put work on a resume.”
The proposal, filed by Toalson Reisch as House Bill 316, was amended to Senate Bill 26, which was passed and signed by Governor Mike Parson (R).
She said this bill benefit not only her home county of Boone, which she said consistently has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, but the entire state.
“Most everywhere sells lottery tickets or alcohol, whether it’s a restaurant, a grocery store, convenience store; most anyplace you walk into will have one or both of those items, and that shouldn’t hold people back who want to work, who want to have a job and earn a living. They’ve served their debt to society.”
The legislation had broad support, and was viewed as helping fight recidivism and unemployment while supporting criminal justice reform and helping the economy by boosting the eligible workforce. The House voted 148-1 for the 2020 version of the bill.
Hanneken said the law before this change was very frustrating for the people he works with, who often want to rebuild their lives, provide for their families, and simply have a path forward after prison.
Toalson Reisch said the reporting requirement for businesses that sell liquor was, in practice, a pointless exercise for those employers, who had to fill out a form that wasn’t used for anything.
“All they did was send it in and I was literally told the state did nothing with this form. They literally threw it in a file cabinet and did nothing with it, and so it was just nonsensical and had no purpose,” said Toalson Reisch.
The bill also had broad support from groups including Empower Missouri and the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores Association.
Cheri Toalson Reisch = shuh-REE TOLE-sun RYSH