Locked Out: How DC Bans Workers with Unpaid Fines from More than 125 Jobs or Starting a Business, and What We Can Do About It


The majority of relevant debt covered by the language of the law is unpaid parking and traffic tickets.

Under DC’s Clean Hands Law, residents can be automatically denied occupational and small business licenses if they owe the District more than $100 in unpaid fines, fees or taxes. This report features stories of people who have been directly impacted and uses data-based explanations to illustrate how the law harms businesses and workers, punishes poverty, restricts access to employment and exacerbates racial inequities. The authors also propose solutions, calling for reform by D.C. policymakers.  

Key Findings:

  • The Clean Hands Law impacts more than 125 occupations including: barbers, cosmetologists, plumbers, HVAC cleaners, electricians, tattoo artists, funeral directors, and food truck vendors.
  • In DC, nearly one in five workers must get an occupational license; In 2022, DC’s occupational license boards issued 12,456 licenses and processed 36,265 license renewals.
  • When passed in 1996, the purpose of the law was to deter littering, illegal dumping, and delinquent tax filing by withholding licenses and permits from people who committed those offenses and failed to pay their fines. 
  • The District of Columbia relies on fines and forfeitures for more than 2 percent of its annual budget, and fines its residents more than any other city in the United States. 


  • Repeal the Clean Hands Law or make amendments to exclude occupational and small business licenses.
  • Increase the debt threshold.
  • Tie tickets to ability to pay and/or create an indigent exception.
  • Create a system that allows people to work to pay off their debt.
  • Forgive payment plans and eliminate doubling after nonpayment.
  • Improve reporting on the demographic breakdown of fines and license denials to improve transparency and promote racial equity. 
  • Require fines from traffic cameras be used for infrastructure and road design improvements, to ensure that fines exist to promote safety, not revenue. 

Read the full report here.  

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