Oklahoma applicants for certain professions and licenses are required under state law to undergo both state and national background checks for the sake of public safety. Unfortunately, municipal fire departments do not have that same authorization, but State Sen. Ron Justice hopes that he can get that changed this year through his Senate Bill 249.
“My bill is about prevention and peace of mind. Victims of fire or other situations that require assistance from a fire department shouldn't have to worry about the integrity of the men and women helping them,” said Justice. “This would give citizens peace of mind that the people in their homes aren't criminals and would also help our municipal fire departments prevent any wrongdoings from happening by keeping criminals off their forces.”
SB 249 was requested by Mustang's Fire Department in conjunction with the State Fire Marshall's office. The measure would authorize municipal
fire departments to conduct national criminal history records checks on perspective firefighters. They currently are authorized to conduct state background checks but as Mustang Fire Chief Carl Hickman pointed out that is not enough when departments are considering out of state applicants.
Hickman said he once had an applicant from out of state that, unknown to the department at the time, had an out of state felony warrant out for his arrest. The person was not hired, but when Hickman later found out about the individual’s criminal record he realized that the law needed to be changed.
“From a fire chief’s standpoint, I want to have as many tools at my disposal to ensure that I’m hiring people with integrity beyond reproach, not individuals with a shady background or issues in other states,” said Hickman. “Our job is to protect the public, and we can’t do that to the best of our ability if we don’t know everything about our applicants.”
Each applicant would be required to provide the department with two completed fingerprint cards and a money order or cashier's check made payable to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to cover the fee for the background check. The Bureau would keep one set of fingerprints in the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) and submit the other set to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for the national criminal history records check.
Some examples of other professionals that are required to undergo a national background check to obtain their professional license include teachers, locksmiths, jewelers, bell bondsmen and security guards as well as applicants for the Horse Racing and ABLE Commissions.
The measure will now go before the full Senate.