Wisconsin Could Make Dishonesty a Crime on Professional License Applications

By Michael Klazema on 2/16/2017
Under a piece of legislation pending in Wisconsin, it would be a criminal action for individuals to lie on state applications for professional licenses. Per a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it is already against the law for professional license candidates to misrepresent the facts on their license applications, but there is also no official punishment for individuals who breach that law. As reporters explain, state authorities have little legal ground to stand on when reprimanding individuals for lying on state licensing applications. Authorities can revoke licenses obtained under false pretenses, but can’t press criminal charges against the people who lied to get those licenses.

The state Department of Safety and Professional Services oversees the credentialing process for more than 200 professions. Right now, licensing for most of those professions happens on an “honor system” basis, coverage notes. The state asks applicants to disclose any criminal history they may have but doesn’t run background checks to verify that all the responses are truthful. For most types of licenses, the state will only conduct a background check if the candidate admits to having a criminal record.

State Representative Scott Allen has proposed a bill that would make it a Class A misdemeanor for anyone to lie on state credentialing applications. If passed, the law would extend beyond criminal history to any false information. Per the Journal Sentinel article, a Class A misdemeanor in Wisconsin carries a maximum sentence that includes jail time up to nine months and a fine up to $10,000. Allen claims that the threat of a hefty penalty would encourage people to be more honest on applications for professional licenses.

Critics of Allen’s bill argue that it would be more effective for the state to run criminal background checks on all professional license applicants. Even with the threat of prosecution, applicants could still lie about their criminal histories and potentially get away with it, critics observe. Since the state currently has little reason to screen a license applicant if he or she does not disclose a criminal record, there is a possibility that Allen’s proposed legislation wouldn’t change anything. Critics of the bill claim that background checks for all applicants would be a more effective way of finding red flags.

Allen has stated that background checks for every license applicant would be too expensive. The Journal Sentinel reports that the Department of Safety and Professional Services “issues about 40,000 licenses a year.” With 40,000 checks to process, Allen claims that a comprehensive background check requirement would cost the state too much money and leave the Department of Safety and Professional Services with a large workload.

Neighboring states Michigan and Indiana have policies in place requiring every professional license applicant to submit to a criminal background check.


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