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Session begins Feb. 1: Oklahoma House to consider criminal justice reform bills

Oklahoma House of Representatives

OKLAHOMA CITY – State representatives will consider legislation to provide people leaving incarceration with an easier path to receive reinstated drivers licenses and to require the Oklahoma Deptartment of Public Safety to provide inmates with state IDs and other relevant documentation to assist in obtaining post-release employment.

State Rep. Nicole Miller (R-Edmond) filed legislation to narrow the scope with which drivers licenses may be revoked following a criminal offense. House Bill 1795 gives the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (DPS) flexibility to work with individuals on a case-by-case basis.

Current statute allows DPS to suspend or revoke a defendant’s license after arrest for certain crimes, an entirely separate process from any criminal proceedings following an arrest.

The bill also updates when a license could be revoked for failure to pay fines and fees. Current statute revokes licenses after failure to pay a single fine, but HB1795 would give more flexibility to the courts and DPS before revocation.

Miller held an interim study on the issue in 2019 after a constituent asked ways to streamline the process for her stepson to receive his license back after it was suspended due to a non-vehicular criminal offense. He was without a license for 16 years.

“It is incredibly difficult for someone convicted of a crime to receive their licenses once their sentence has been served, and this barrier to reentry prevents many Oklahomans from pursuing employment and education,” Miller said. “I believe that we can protect public safety while also encouraging people who have left incarceration to become productive members of society.”

Miller modeled the legislation after last year’s House Bill 1298, which was stalled in the legislative process after session was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Rep. Marilyn Stark (R-Bethany) filed House Bill 1679 to require the Oklahoma Dept. of Corrections (DOC) to identify inmates leaving custody within the next nine months and begin gathering certain documentation to assist the inmate in obtaining post-release employment, including a two-year state ID.

Other documentation includes vocational training records, work records, state-issued identification cards, birth certificates, Social Security cards and resumes. In 2019, Stark held an interim study over providing state IDs for inmates upon their release.

“The Legislature has made remarkable strides in the area of criminal justice reform in recent years, but there’s still more work to be done,” Stark said. “House Bill 1679 would build off our previous work by providing people leaving incarceration with documents that are necessary to secure employment and housing, both of which make a person significantly less likely to reoffend.”

Rep. Brian Hill (R-Mustang) authored similar legislation last year and has co-authored HB1679, which is modeled after Stark’s House Bill 1310 and Hill’s House Bill 3113 from the 57th Legislature.

“If we want to break the cycle of violence and reduce the number of people in our crowded prison system, we must provide Oklahomans leaving incarceration with the resources and support they need to transition back into society,” Hill said. “Measures such as House Bill 1679 are common-sense and can significantly lower our state’s recidivism rate and improve the lives of many Oklahomans.”

Before the 2020 session was paused due to the pandemic, HB3113 and HB1310 both passed the House 96-0 but were not heard in the Senate.

The first session of the 58th Legislature resumes Monday, Feb. 1 at noon.