A bill that would allow Oklahoma prison inmates to work on private farms and ranches is inching closer to becoming law.
Senate Bill 488 has cleared the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee. Now, it is waiting to be heard on the Senate floor.
The bill by Sen. Susan Paddack, D-Ada, authorizes the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to develop a farm worker program for inmates. Department officials would set eligibility requirements for participating inmates, determine wages and decide which farms and ranches may participate.
The program would be exempt from any state laws barring private citizens from using inmate labor.
The bill was inspired by a Stratford resident who owns a peach orchard and organic farm and who was concerned about a shortage of workers, Paddack said. She said the measure will address that issue while giving inmates a chance to learn a trade.
“It allows them to have marketable skills when they get out of prison,” she said Thursday.
Paddack said the bill is a work in progress, and supporters will have to educate people about the need for a farm worker program for inmates. She said it is difficult to predict how the measure will fare on the Senate floor.