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Lesniak-Cunningham Bill To Expand Employment Opportunities For Ex-Offenders Receives Final Approval

Measure Part of Legislative Package to Reduce Recidivism, Encourage Rehabilitation

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Sandra Bolden Cunningham which would expand employment opportunities for certain ex-offenders in order to aid in their reentry into society was approved by the Assembly today by a vote of 70-7, receiving final legislative approval.

“Any attempt to create a fairer justice system – one in which drug offenders are directed to treatment, rather than incarceration – is meaningless if, after the offender completes the treatment program, they can’t find a job,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “If you’ve paid your debt to society, I see no reason why you should be barred from working anywhere that alcohol is served. This is about creating meaningful employment opportunities for people trying to pick up the pieces of their lives.”

“The prohibition against employment at venues where alcohol is served is a relic of our tough-on-crime policies which have done little to reduce recidivism,” said Senator Cunningham, D-Hudson. “If we’re serious about giving people the opportunity to actually reform, we should break down the barriers to employment for ex-offenders. This is about real access to opportunity for ex-offenders to put their criminal past behind them.”

The bill, S-876, would permit certain ex-offenders to be employed by alcoholic beverage licensees, so long as they are not involved in the serving, selling, soliciting, mixing or handling of alcoholic beverages. The bill would exclude from the provisions of the bill sex offenders and people convicted of a crime while employed on a licensed premises. Ex-offenders would also be prohibited from providing private security or admission-monitoring services, and would be prohibited from providing or participating in any management or professional services.

Under current law, a person convicted of any serious crime is disqualified from being employed by an alcoholic beverage licensee, unless they have received a Rehabilitation Employment Permit from the Director of the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The fee for such a permit is $125 annually, and permits can sometimes take a long time to be issued. Senators Lesniak and Cunningham noted that many alcoholic beverage licensees regularly employ people not involved in the serving or sale of alcoholic drinks, including cooks, janitors and dishwashers, in addition to live entertainment, including band members, singers and DJs. The sponsors noted that the prohibition from employment eliminates a large number of offenders, and the cost of obtaining a necessary permit to work can be burdensome to persons who have recently been released from incarceration.

“Many recently-released ex-offenders cannot afford the high cost of annual permitting fees to work where alcohol is served, and even more just don’t qualify for a work permit,” said Senator Cunningham. “This bill addresses the concerns of employers while still creating access to employment for ex-offenders. For people who’ve served their time, this is the right thing to do.”

“The current ABC approval process not only creates a bureaucratic nightmare to navigate, and adds unnecessary costs to taxpayers, but it delays employment and often takes away the opportunity of getting a job,” said Senator Lesniak. “Any ex-offender who has the doors to employment shut in their face is likely not going to be an ex-offender for long, and will do whatever they have to do to get by. We want to close the revolving door policies which create repeat offenders and sentence non-violent offenders to an endless cycle of arrest, incarceration, release and arrest.”

The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law. It was approved by the Senate in February by a vote of 36-0.

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