Illinois Policy

Second Chances

The challenge

Ex-offenders in Illinois were banned from working in the health care field

The solution

A solutions journalism program to show readers the story of how public policy affects individuals, a solution to remedy that suffering and the tools to take effective action

The result

Passed occupational licensing reform into law, allowing thousands of Illinoisans the opportunity to provide a better life for their families

Despite working as a certified nursing assistant for nearly a decade and passing her nursing courses with flying colors, the state of Illinois denied Lisa access to the final test she needed to get her license to become a registered nurse – all because of a crime she committed as a teenager. More than two decades prior, she tried to steal money from a sandwich shop in a moment of desperation to provide for her baby girl.

Key Stats

The Illinois Policy Institute's black community members doubled from 5% to 10% of their active community.

Iron Light produced a documentary-style video, a photojournalism story and newspaper op-eds detailing Lisa’s fight.


Lisa’s struggle took the form of Senate Bill 42. The bill would allow those with forcible felonies on their records (other than sexual offenses) to seek waivers from the state to obtain health care worker licenses, provided the convictions occurred more than five years prior to applying for a waiver.

The Result: Problem Solved

Telling the story of a single mom in Decatur affected by Illinois’criminal-justice system lead to a change in state law, national media attention, and coveted awards.

In 2016, the General Assembly passed Lisa’s bill, with Gov. Bruce Rauner signing it into law alongside Creason, as well as Director of Content Strategy Austin Berg. Iron Light ensured this victory was reported across the state in local media, including the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as national outlets such as the Washington Post. SB 42 took effect Jan. 1, 2017.

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