Bipartisan sponsors of a proposal to help ex-offenders find employment brought their case to a Senate panel Tuesday.
The collateral sanctions bill, SB 337, is based on feedback from stakeholders during interested party forums that the Kasich Administration helped organize. Sen. Shirley Smith (D-Cleveland) told the Senate Judiciary Committee during sponsor testimony.
“We need to pass this legislation because it moves the conversation past how to punish people and toward how to help people be better people,” she said. “It opens up opportunities for those who have already paid their dues to society and want to move on with their lives.”
The measure would remove barriers to employment by allowing most ex-offenders the ability to take exams required to get professional licenses issued by the state for jobs in the construction industry.
The bill addresses a broad range of policy changes including language that would “prohibit the preclusion of individuals from obtaining or renewing certain licenses, certifications, or permits due to any past criminal history unless the individual had committed a crime of moral turpitude or a disqualifying offense.”
The bill also would define the terms moral turpitude and disqualifying offense as applied to certain employment and permit decision-makers to consider on a case-by-case basis whether it is appropriate to grant or deny the issuance or restoration of an occupational license or employment opportunity.
Joint co-sponsor Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) described the measure as the next step “in the continuum of criminal justice reform” that the legislature started last year when it overhauled criminal sentencing penalties in HB 86.
The measure would help reduce the likelihood of freed prisoners committing future crimes, he said, noting that one in every six Ohioans is an ex-offender.
Employers who hire ex-offenders with an Order of Limited Relief from the sentencing court would be protected from being held liable for negligent hiring, he said, noting House Bill 86 included a similar measure. However, the proposal would offer the same relief for those released prior to enactment of that legislation.
The removal of collateral sanctions would not apply in cases where a “direct nexus” exists between the offense and the employment opportunity, he said. For example, it would not allow someone convicted of check fraud to get a job in a bank.