House Review: Criminal justice reform and jobs (Claremore Daily Progress)

By Rep. Mark Lepak

Greetings from the state capitol! The House of Representatives and the Senate cleared the last of 399 and 434 bills, respectively, out of the 3,500 originally filed during a hectic deadline week. The late nights have given way to a relatively light spring break week, and it is good to have a breather as we start considering the bills sent over by the opposite chamber.

Last time, I promised to detail HB2585, a criminal justice reform and jobs bill I ran that allows those who have paid their debt to society a better opportunity to break the criminal cycle and become productive members again. I’m happy to tell you it passed in the House 59-31-11.

HB2585 builds on HB 2168, which passed by a large, bipartisan margin last session.

It prevents a person with a prior conviction from being disqualified from pursuing any occupation requiring a license solely or partially because of a prior conviction, unless it is a conviction directly related to the occupation sought. The intent is to provide a generic template or framework for licensing authorities, rather than requiring specific citation, occupation by occupation, in statute, which is what HB 2168 did last year. It also provides: 1) guidelines as to what the licensing boards and authorities should consider, 2) a notification process of intent to deny with instructions as to what additional information the applicant might provide within a 10 business day window, and 3) what is required if the licensing authority formally denies the request. It does not affect existing licensing restrictions required by other federal or state statutes, or existing licensing restrictions for professions working with children, seniors, and other vulnerable occupations.

So why would I run such a bill? It helps to know a little of the back story. There is nothing juicy here. I walked up on a conversation to hear Mark McCullough, a Representative from Sapulpa who authored HB 2168, telling a colleague about a good bill he wanted to run, but he had too many.

I volunteered to look at it, and the journey began. Along the way, I learned that 1 in 12 Oklahomans have a felony conviction in their past, and while we have a lot of focus on how to reduce the numbers of people we send to prison, we shouldn’t overlook what happens after a person pays his debt to society.

On the floor, I explained that qualified workers who return to the workforce have the opportunity to become contributing members of society in a positive way, instead of becoming dependent on the state, or worse, falling back into the criminal justice system when lack of hope and opportunity suggests a return to crime is an option that should be considered. I said one can understand this thinking if your career opportunities are severely restricted, where perhaps work in food preparation or manual labor is the most that can be achieved after serving time. That’s not saying there is anything wrong with jobs like that, but I think we would agree that most of us look at certain jobs as something you do for now, or temporarily, on your way to a better life, and a higher purpose.

I also said we don’t believe in banishment in this country. The situation so many people experience today, coming out of their sentence after a poor decision on their part, perhaps only once at an early age, could be considered a sort of financial banishment. We believe in paying our debts to society, and reengaging in positive citizenship so we can take care of ourselves, and those who depend upon us.

I argued this is a reasonable approach for an individual to potentially reenter the workforce, and a protection for the licensing entity. The presumption is to protect the profession; the policy is to allow discretion.

And one more thing everyone needs to understand; people with felony convictions do not always serve time in prison. You can be a felon by accepting a suspended sentence because you have no money to fight the charge. Think about young people with drug possession or destruction of property.

Ex-convicts are out there struggling to put their lives in order, and I think this bill helps remove a needless barrier.

It is simply a cheaper and more effective way to restore people to productive citizenship than some of the alternatives we’ve tried the past few decades.

Finally, know that both OCPA (Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs) and the Oklahoma Policy Institute, generally considered conservative and liberal think tanks, respectively, support this bill. I hope the Senate does, too.

As always, please drop by the office if you happen to be in Oklahoma City. You can call my office at 405-557-7380, or write to me at Representative Mark Lepak, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Rm. 328A, State Capitol Building, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.

State Rep. Mark Lepak (R-Claremore) can be reached via email at


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