OK occupational licensing reform

The Senate has given approval to Senate Bill 1691, which builds upon previously passed occupational licensing reforms and would be transformational for job-seeking Oklahomans with criminal records to seize their second chance.

The measure, authored by Sen. Zack Taylor, R-Seminole, adds to current state law on occupational licensure so a criminal record could only be grounds for license denial if the offense substantially relates to the duties and responsibilities of the occupation and poses a reasonable threat to public safety.

Each licensing board would be required to consider the seriousness of the crime, amount of time that’s passed since conviction, the age of the applicant at the time the crime was committed, evidence relevant to the offense and evidence of rehabilitation.

“Currently, boards can automatically disqualify an applicant who’s committed a certain offense without an evaluation of their specific circumstance,” Taylor said. “Shifting to a factor-based review will allow boards to look at the specific circumstances of the applicant and take into account the rehabilitation and amount of time that’s taken place since the crime was committed. This type of review will open the door for many Oklahomans with a criminal record, while still protecting public safety and maintaining discretion for the licensing board.”

The measure would exclude from consideration any offense that’s been dismissed, pardoned, sealed, or expunged from the record, or if five years have passed since conviction or the end of incarceration without any new conviction. Offenses on the violent crime list, felony domestic assault, and offenses that require sex offender registration may be considered as a variable for licensure at any time.

“Each year, thousands of Oklahomans leave prison and re-enter our communities with a drive to pursue their second chance and provide for themselves and their families,” Taylor said. “However, many struggle finding a job upon their release due to their criminal record. If we can eliminate the hurdles for countless jobs that are in demand – like electricians, plumbers and hairdressers – we can encourage safe and successful employment while reducing our recidivism rate.”

States across the country are reforming occupational licensing to ensure more citizens can work and be productive members of society. The Council of State Governments reports that 19 states in some way limit consideration of older convictions in the licensing process; 28 states require individualized consideration of applicants; and 25 states restrict consideration of pardoned, sealed or expunged records.

“House Bill 1373, which was passed in 2019, opened the doors for more Oklahomans with a criminal record to apply for and safely obtain their occupational license,” Taylor said. “This measure simply builds upon the work we’ve already started to promote second chances and workforce development at a time when our state ranks 12th nationally in labor shortage.”

SB 1691 is supported by the Prison Fellowship; Americans for Prosperity; Institute for Justice; Right on Crime; Catholic Conference; Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs; and Council for State Governments.

The measure next heads to the House of Representatives for further consideration where Rep. Brad Boles, R-Marlow, is the principal author.

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