Update: Bill to ban the felony box on job forms fails

A bill to remove the requirement to indicate a criminal record on government employment applications died in a House subcommittee Wednesday.

Update #1 — February 16, 2015; 8:56 AM

By Ali Mislowsky

A bill to remove the requirement to indicate a criminal record on government employment applications died in a House subcommittee Wednesday.

SB 1017 passed the Senate last week on a 21-17 vote but was killed on its first stop in the House of Delegates. The “ban the box” bill, introduced by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, would have removed the box from applications that prospective employees must check if they have been convicted of a crime. It would have applied only to state agencies.

The measure was considered Wednesday by the Civil Law Subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee. It died on a non-recorded voice vote to “gently” lay the bill on the table.

Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, had sponsored the House version of the bill (HB 1680). In January, it also failed in the Civil Law Subcommittee.

Even though they tabled SB 1017, subcommittee members expressed broad support for the idea behind the legislation. Republican Dels. Greg Habeeb of Salem, Manoli Loupassi of Richmond and Randall Minchew of Leesburg pledged to support a revised version of the bill next year.

“We had Delegate Carr’s bill earlier. I think this subcommittee actually expressed a lot of interest in trying to find a way to help with re-entry issues,” said Habeeb, chairman of the subcommittee. “I expressed concern with this just because of the burden on employers and the potential liability employers are going to have.”

Dance disagreed, saying the bill would benefit job applicants and society. “I don’t see it as an added burden,” she said. “I see it as an opportunity to put some more people into jobs, paying taxes.”

Richard Walker, the CEO and founder of Bridging the Gap in Virginia, a nonprofit organization that helps ex-offenders reintegrate into society, spoke in favor of the bill.

“I work with individuals on a daily basis who have this challenge,” said Walker, who holds workshops on employment for former felons. “The title of my workshop is ‘Overcoming Barriers.’ The biggest barrier is sitting in front of a potential employer, seeking to get a position. A lot of these [people], because the box is checked there, they don’t even reach that potential employer.”

Walker, an ex-offender, said he had benefitted from an employer disregarding his criminal history and giving him a job. “I am a product. I have been sanctioned, licensed and secured by the State of Virginia to perform mental health services,” Walker said. “We’re asking that the State of Virginia would rectify this to allow individuals to have that opportunity to at least be interviewed, to at least be one-on-one with that potential employer state agency, to indicate whether or not they are able to do that skill.”

Loupassi shared Habeeb’s concern about the risk of hiring an applicant with a criminal history. “I think that the primary reason why employers don’t take a chance with people who come out and are felons is because they’re scared they’re going to get sued for negligent hiring,” Loupassi said. “Even if you ban the box, it doesn’t matter, because sooner or later, if they find out that the guy’s got a felony, it won’t matter – their employment plan says, ‘You don’t get a job.'”

Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, noted that the bill would provide only a starting point in the job application process. It would afford applicants the chance for an interview without their felony immediately disqualifying them, she said.

“This is only at the entry level – getting your foot in the door,” said McClellan, a member of the subcommittee. “The point here is that … when you have that box on an application and it is checked, no matter who you are, it’s a scarlet letter; you’re not even getting in.”

Habeeb and other subcommittee maintained their concerns about the legislation, ultimately voting to kill it for the session. “We ended up laying Delegate Carr’s bill on the table with a genuine promise from a lot of us that we want to actually find a solution to this issue,” Habeeb said. “My inclination on your bill is the same as it was on Delegate Carr’s bill.”

Minchew agreed, moving to “gently” lay the bill on the table. He offered to help craft new language in hopes of passing such a law in 2016.

— ∮∮∮ —

Original — January 28, 2015

By Ali Mislowsky

A Senate committee on Monday narrowly approved a bill that would prohibit state agencies from asking job applicants if they have a criminal history on employment applications.

The Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted 8-7 in favor of Senate Bill 1017, sponsored by Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg. It would remove the box from applications that prospective employees must check if they’ve been convicted of a crime.

“They get an opportunity to sell themselves on that job, to demonstrate their skills and abilities for that job,” Dance said. “And if it’s an appropriate job, they get to get a job and become an invested citizen paying taxes in the commonwealth.” She said Richmond and Petersburg – two cities she represents – have already “banned the box” in filling local government jobs.

Oludare Ogunde, president of Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged, addressed the committee in support of the bill. Ogunde, who has been incarcerated, said the Virginia Department of Corrections is largely focused on rehabilitation and reentry programs, but these efforts go to waste because prisoners don’t have a real chance of employment when they are released.

“When they come out here, there’s this huge barrier that prevents them from even getting a job,” Ogunde said. “If you have to just mark that box, you’re not even going to get a callback. Nobody is going to want to hear what you have to say.”

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, raised a question about conflicting concerns regarding background checks for job applicants. “How do we counterbalance on the one hand people saying we need more information before we hire people, and on the other hand saying we need to give people a chance?” Petersen asked.

Dance said her bill bridges the gap. “I think this bill finds that balance because we’re not saying they would automatically get the job,” Dance said. “It gives them an opportunity to not be frustrated and turned away.”

The bill would allow state agencies to do a criminal background check on the prospective employee after offering them the position. “First you have to interview that person and see them as the best candidate for the job, and then all this information comes out before you elect to give that person the job,” said Dance, referring to the opportunity for background checks upon a job offer.

State agencies could recant their job offer if a criminal history deems the applicant incompatible with the position. Moreover, Dance’s bill would not apply to jobs with law-enforcement agencies, fire departments, and emergency medical services agencies. Applications for those positions could continue to ask whether the applicant has a criminal history.

Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Lynchburg, asked whether cities could ban the box without Dance’s bill. “Localities can choose to do this right now without us, right?” Garrett said.

They can, and many have. Ben Greenberg, legislative coordinator for Virginia Organizing, said 15 localities in the state have undertaken “ban the box” initiatives, including Harrisonburg, Fairfax County, Martinsville and Virginia Beach. “We’ve been working with localities throughout the state on this matter, and they’ve been very responsive in trying to help remove this box and help people have a fair shot at work,” Greenberg said.

Republican Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel of Winchester joined the seven Democrats on the committee in voting for SB 1017. The seven other Republicans on the panel opposed the measure. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

If approved by the full Senate, the bill would move to the House, where it likely would face opposition. Last week, a companion measure – House Bill 1680, sponsored by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond – died in a subcommittee.

— ∮∮∮ —

How They Voted

How members of the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee voted Monday on SB 1017.

SB 1017 Employment applications; inquiries regarding criminal arrests, charges or convictions.

01/26/15 Senate: Reported from General Laws and Technology (8-Y 7-N)

  • YEAS: Colgan, Locke, Petersen, Barker, Vogel, Deeds, Ebbin, Wexton – 8.
  • NAYS: – Ruff, Stosch, Martin, Stuart, Black, Reeves, Garrett – 7.
  • error

    Report an error

Capital News Service

There is 1 reader comment. Read it.