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“Ban the Box” Legislation Advances in Senate

Hearing in Senate Judiciary Committee Set for July 2

June 28, 2013
The Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee approved AB 218 (Dickinson) this week moving it to the Senate Judiciary Committee for hearing on July 2.
 
The League has an oppose unless amended position on this bill that prohibits state and local agencies from asking job applicants to disclose their criminal conviction history on a job application and must wait to ask for that information until later in the hiring process, unless the position is in a criminal justice agency or the position, as a matter of state law, requires a background check.
 
This bill is a reintroduction of last year’s AB 1831 also authored by Assembly Member Dickinson (D-Sacramento). The League opposed AB 1831 unless the bill was amended to apply equally to all public agencies including the state and to give public employers the discretion to determine which positions to ask for criminal history information up front in the hiring process. The Assembly member and the bill’s sponsors, National Employment Law Project (NELP), did not take the League’s proposal and argued that the request would undermine the essence of the bill to remove bias in the initial hiring process and for encouraging people with criminal histories to apply. Ultimately AB 1831 was held in the Senate Governance and Finance.
 
Assembly member Dickinson and NELP want to “ban the box,” which means removing the standard question that requires the applicant to disclose his or her criminal history from a local agency initial employment application. The 2011 Public Safety Realignment (as enacted by AB 109, AB 117 and additional 2011 trailer bills) provides that state inmates convicted of a non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offense are supervised post-release by county probation departments. In addition, low-level felony offenders with no prior violent, serious or sex offense are supervised under county custody in lieu of the state Department of Corrections and rehabilitation.
 
Proponents of “banning the box” argue that employment of eligible people with a conviction history can assist the success of realignment at the local level, as studies have shown that stable employment significantly lowers recidivism and promotes public safety. Proponents are also concerned that otherwise qualified individuals are often discouraged from applying for work in the public and private sectors because of a conviction history inquiry on the initial application.
 
Study Shows How Cities Nationwide Approach Issue
 
The National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education & Families partnered with NELP on a strategy guide called, Cities Pave the Way: Promising Reentry Policies that Promote Local Hiring of People with Criminal Records. The guide states that in the past five years cities nationwide have reshaped their municipal hiring policies to give opportunities to individuals released from prison who are looking for a job.
 
It also explains that the most promising local policies that promote the hiring of people with criminal records were assembled. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley was quoted as saying, “Implementing this new policy won’t be easy, but it’s the right thing to do … we cannot ask private employers to consider hiring former prisoners unless the city practices what it preaches.” The study reports that Alameda County, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco have banned the box.
 
League Board Considers Issue in 2012
 
The League board of directors discussed this issue at length last year. The officers and directors agreed overall that there is merit to the broader goals of the legislation though they felt strongly that any proposal should be done in a way that continues to give local agencies necessary discretion in their hiring practices.
 
League Position Remains Opposed
 
The League appreciates that AB 218 includes our requested amendments to apply the provisions to all public agencies equally including the state. The League remains opposed because the bill does not include the organization’s other request for discretion and flexibility for cities to decide when to ask for criminal history.  
 
Assembly Member Dickenson and NELP are not inclined to give public agencies complete discretion. In the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next week the League hopes to find middle ground that allows cities to request criminal history information in the initial phase of hiring if the position handles sensitive, proprietary, or confidential information, the position handles cash or cash accounts, or the position requires entering onto private property without notification to the property owner. This would mean an exclusion from the bill’s requirements for positions in human resources, finance, information technology, utilities and perhaps others.


 
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