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Felons for Hire: More State and Local Governments Not Asking About Past Convictions


"Ban the box"

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is shown at his election night party at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson) AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, will be signing an executive order as soon as next month that would remove the question about a felony convictions from state employment applications – following a trend by 10 other states and at least 60 other local governments.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is shown at his election night party at the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta, Tuesday, May 20, 2014. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson)

The policy is called, “ban the box,” meaning the box that asks a prospective job applicant if he or she has ever been convicted of a felony. This week, Rochester, New York adopted the policy.

Deal is following a suggestion from a report by the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform that was issued in January.

"The governor will issue an executive order as early as mid-June and it will reflect the council’s recommendations," Gov. Deal's spokesperson Sasha Dlugolenski told TheBlaze. "We are currently working through the details to determine what needs to be included in the order. Issuing this order will afford some with blemishes on their record a shot at a good job, which is key to preventing a return to crime."

The criminal justice report made several suggestions, including changes to employment applications.

“Prospective employees of the State of Georgia are required to disclose convictions on their initial employment applications,” the report states. “This practice may exclude a returning citizen from consideration, even if he or she is otherwise qualified for the position and the conviction has little or no bearing on the work to be performed.”

It goes on to make a recommendation to get rid of the question in most cases on the application form, but suggests a supervisor should ask during the job interview.

“Require the state to ‘ban the box’ on appropriate employment applications and instead require that the applicant is close any criminal history during a face-to-face interview with the employing agency,” the Georgia report states. “Applications for positions in which a criminal history would be an immediate disqualification (i.e. public safety jobs or highly sensitive governmental positions) would continue to require the initial disclosure.”

This year, the state legislatures in Delaware and Nebraska passed “ban the box” bills, according to Stateline, a project of Pew Charitable Trusts. In the last five years, the states of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Minnesota and Rhode Island and the District of Columbia have banned the box for most government jobs. Hawaii became the first state to ban the box in 1998.

Interestingly, the trend has been happening in a down economy when so many people without criminal records are having trouble finding a job.

Only Hawaii and Rhode Island laws extended the ban to the private sector in the state.

At the federal level, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission changed guidelines in 2012 that stopped short of banning the box for the private sector, but warned employers it would be a civil rights violation if they did not hire minorities with a criminal record, but hired a white person with a comparable record.

While major retail chains Walmart and Target have stopped asking on the application, dictating such terms to small businesses could be problematic, Elizabeth Milito of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which represents about 350,000 small businesses, told Stateline.

“A blanket ban-the-box policy doesn’t make good business sense for small business,” Milito said. The NFIB, which represents about 350,000 small and independent businesses nationwide. She added, that waiting until just before the job offer is “kind of wasting the business owners’ time.”

More than 60 city and county governments, including Atlanta, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Missouri, according to a report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which lobbies for ban-the-box rules across the country.

The NELP estimated that 70 million U.S. adults have an arrest or conviction record, though not all of those are felonies.

“You’re not required to hire anyone,” NELP attorney Michelle Rodriguez told Stateline. “This is about letting people get their foot in the door, and not being automatically disqualified.”

(H/T: Stateline)

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