House of Representatives

Miller Hosts Study on Drivers Licenses for People Leaving Incarceration

11/13/2019 2:54:00 PM

Contact: State Rep. Nicole Miller
Office: (405) 557-7357

Rep. Nicole Miller (R-Edmond) hosted an interim study Tuesday before the House Public Safety Committee to examine possible steps that could be taken to help get drivers licenses reinstated after being involved in the justice system.

Miller requested the study to examine the impact possessing a valid drivers license has on a person’s life after they conclude their time in the justice system. The study also focused on the current process in place for those whose licenses have been suspended or expired for reasons related to their involvement in the justice system.

“As legislators, there are a few questions we need to be asking ourselves through this study. Are these laws working as intended? Are we getting the results that we expected? Does the law need to be reformed to ensure that there is a less cumbersome path for drivers license reinstatement while still preserving the safety of the public?” Miller said during her introduction. “These laws, we know, have been amended and changed countless times in the last decade, and what we’re really left with today is just a series of laws and administrative code that has been cobbled together over time.”

Miller said the issue was brought to her attention by Judy Mullen Hopper, a constituent whose stepson went 15 years without a license after his was suspended due to a 2004 conviction of simple drug possession, which is now considered a misdemeanor under State Question 780 and House Bill 1269.

Hopper told the committee about the effect losing the ability to drive had on her stepson. Without a license, he couldn’t get a job, whereas previously he was in the process of becoming an electrician. She said feelings of discouragement and hopelessness are common among those who have lost their license.

Hopper said the fines and fees to have his license reinstated ended up costing over $2,100. The process took 60 hours of courses, in addition to time spent finding transportation to and from his classes. The entire process had to be completed within six months.

A second speaker, Liz Dunaway, participates in ReMerge, a diversion program to help pregnant women and mothers transition from incarceration into society. She provided a real world perspective of her experience trying to get her license reinstated after two DUI charges in 2011. She said she wasn’t made aware of a 10-day window from the charge of her first DUI to appeal her license suspension.

Dunaway said she couldn’t get a license until she had a breathalyzer installed on a vehicle, but she couldn’t get a vehicle until she had a drivers license. It was difficult to find work without a car or the ability to drive, which made paying her $1,800 license reinstatement fee all the more stressful.

Erin Brewer shared her experience as a second chance employer in Oklahoma City’s Bricktown, where she owned RedPin and witnessed the struggle her employees endured to become a contributing member of society again.

Brewer said RedPin employed about 160 people a year who walked from nearby halfway houses, and they were consistently reliable, eager and hardworking.

“This group of folks who are coming out of incarceration are ready and willing to work again, and our state needs to support them,” Brewer told the committee.

Brewer said although she was aware of tax credits available for second chance employers, they were not a major incentive for her. She said credits were difficult to find and fill out, especially because it required a separate form for each second chance employee.

Other speakers included Kate Barbarick, an education and employment coordinator with ReMerge; Doug Young, director of driver compliance at the Dept. of Public Safety; Sean Wallace, legislative liaison for Dept. of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services; Derek M. Cohen, director of Right on Crime and the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy foundation; and Tricia Everest, chair of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority.

Miller expects to address this issue through legislation this year. The deadline to introduce new bills is Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. The second session of the 57th Legislature will commence Monday, Feb. 3, 2020.