Oklahoma Eliminates Licensing Barriers for People with Criminal Records

Nick Sibilla
Nick Sibilla · May 17, 2022

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday signed a bill (SB 1691) that will make it much easier for people with criminal records to become licensed in their chosen field. Previously, Oklahoma had mediocre protections for ex-offenders seeking licenses to work, receiving a C in a recent report by the Institute for Justice, Barred from Working. But with the governor’s signature, that grade will soar to an A-, with Oklahoma’s laws now some of the best in the nation.

“An honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for ex-offenders to find work,” said IJ Legislative Counsel Meagan Forbes, who submitted testimony in favor of the bill. “This bill will eliminate many licensing barriers that have little basis in common sense and unfairly deny countless Oklahomans looking for a fresh start.”

Building on reforms enacted in 2015 and 2019, SB 1691 will:

  • Ban boards from denying licenses based on convictions that happened more than five years ago, though this time limit will not apply to violent or sexual offenses;  
  • Prevent boards from using arrests that didn’t result in a conviction as well as sealed or expunged records;
  • Block boards from denying applicants based on vague and arbitrary “good character” requirements;
  • Guarantee the right to appeal a denied license; 
  • Enact new reporting requirements to track the number of applicants and licenses issued and denied to people with criminal records.

By imposing significant costs in terms of time and money, licensing laws often create substantial hurdles to worker mobility and prisoner reentry. For instance, according to a separate report by the Institute for Justice, the average license for lower- and middle-income occupations in Oklahoma requires paying $234 in fees, finishing 399 days of training and experience, and passing two exams.SB 1691 passed the Oklahoma Legislature almost unanimously and was backed by a diverse coalition, including the Institute for Justice, the Prison Fellowship, Americans for Prosperity, and the Council of State Governments. Since 2015, Oklahoma and 37 other states have removed licensing barriers for ex-offenders.

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Barred From Working

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

Barred From Working

Earning an honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for ex-offenders to find work, thwarting their chances of successful reentry.