A collateral sanctions bill was approved 27-4 in the Ohio Senate. A similar bill in the House also passed, by 96-1. The votes last week on Senate Bill 337 and House Bill 524 reflect a broad bipartisan recognition that Ohio imposes unfair burdens on people who have criminal records, the population the state needs to integrate successfully into communities. The votes reflect as well the continuing effort to correct imbalances in the criminal justice system.

“Collateral sanctions” refer to a slew of penalties that are not part of a court sentence but come into play after an offender has completed the punishment prescribed for a felony or misdemeanor conviction. Over the years, Ohio has piled up close to 700 such sanctions that can be triggered by a criminal record. Among the many restrictions, some of which apply permanently, felons and misdemeanor offenders are barred from holding a number of professional and recreational licenses, plus a driver’s license and from employment in numerous businesses.

Other sanctions withdraw privileges, such as eligibility for public housing, loans and grants, or impose requirements (for example, reporting and residential limits on sex offenders).

An estimated 1.9 million Ohioans have felony or misdemeanor records. In effect, tens of thousands of residents are unemployed, underemployed or employed in criminal activities because state laws narrow their options. The Ohio Justice & Policy Center estimates the economic loss to the state exceeds $2 billion each year.

None too soon, the collateral sanctions bills begin to eliminate a few of the barriers to employment. Among the key provisions, the bills would reduce the number of offenses that trigger sanctions in eight professions, including cosmetology, hearing-aid dealers and fitters and construction contractors. The legislation also creates a mechanism, “an order of limited relief,” that would authorize a court or administrative agency to grant qualified offenders relief from a specific sanction. The certificate would serve as evidence of due diligence, protecting employers from negligence lawsuits if they hire the applicants. With so many sanctions on the books, the bills put Ohio on a positive track to correct a deeply unfair system.