A Policy Internship Helps Shape Future Legislation

Tyne Dickson ’22 is a Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar and recipient of the Hamon Internship. She applied her internship this past summer at UnlockingDoors where she had the opportunity to input her research and recommendations in legislation that will be presented to Congress in 2021. Read more about her experience in the post below.

This summer has been an educational experience in many more ways than one. As a nation, we learned we have a lot of work to do. We also learned that the only people currently working to fix these issues, are ones not granted the power to do so. Personally, I learned that my main interest lies in finding my path to help those in need. I switched my major from political science to human rights, began building an activism app, and began working on the BlackLivesMatter movement at SMU. Professionally, I am very grateful to have learned an exponential amount from my summer internship at UnlockingDoors researching the accessibility to occupational licenses for people with a criminal background.

UnlockingDoors Internship as a Path to a Career in Public Policy

Being a research intern for a nonprofit organization is a vital position to learn about the career field in public policy. Often, careers in public policy that are centered around social aid are nonprofit, require volunteer (or unpaid) work, and are the backbone to larger organizations.

Practical Experience Gained

I certainly learned the detail-oriented policy involved with every aspect of criminal re-entry. Research must be done every legislative session to update organizational practices, continue to progress in the next legislative session, and of course help the target community. I had never read an act of legislation in entirety and applied it to policy recommendations.

Another important skill I gained by this internship: reading new legislative amendments and subsequently checking for their implementation. Implementation is the most important part of law for a public policy career. The heaviest research portion of this internship was this practice.

Policy Recommendations

The most exciting portion of this internship was to suggesting my own recommendations to UnlockingDoors for the 2021 legislative session. I focused on continuing with the criminal justice “wins” made in 2019. This included changing vague language and ensuring stricter guidelines for a licensing agency when judging applicants. A condensed list of the recommendations are:

  • Ensuring that the State Auditor releases an accessible and approachable Best Practices Guide on the required date (September 1, 2020).
  • Changing the vague language for what a licensing agency is allowed to consider “criminal activity”; such as, “evidence of rehabilitative effort”.
  • Removing Chapter 43 of the Occupational Code (list of non-violent crimes) from the crimes that allow for immediate disqualification from an occupational license.
  • Allow for more entities in an applicant’s life to submit “evidence of good character”, such as organizations like UnlockingDoors.
  • Allow anyone with a criminal conviction when they were a minor to not have that crime included in the judgement process.
  • Expanding the privilege of restricted licenses (in place of a revocation) to apply to the entire list of Texas occupational licenses.

Thank you to UnockingDoors, the Tower Center, and the Jake L. Hamon Internship Program for this amazing opportunity.