by Incarcerated Flavors

California Legislature Passes

“Ban the Box” Bill

Gives Qualified Job Applicants Who Have Past Convictions a Fair Shot at a Job

Oakland, CA — In a 21 to 16 vote, the California State Senate yesterday passed a bill to expand the state’s “ban the box” policy, removing questions about convictions from both state and local agency job applications and postponing such inquiries until later in the hiring process. With the bill already having passed the Assembly and now heading to the governor’s desk, California is poised to extend the state’s current policy to local governments. Ten states, representing nearly every region of the country, have embraced ban-the-box policies, as nationwide momentum grows to reduce unfair barriers to employment for people with criminal records.

“A mistake from the past shouldn’t be a life sentence to joblessness,” said Michelle Rodriguez, staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project in Oakland. “This bill gives hope to thousands of Californians who are ready to work but are shut out from employment because they’re automatically screened out from the start. It will help ensure that all qualified job-seekers have the opportunity to compete fairly for employment,” said Rodriguez.

Since 2010, California has had an administrative policy in place that removed conviction questions from state agency job applications. The bill, AB 218, authored by Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, codifies and extends that policy to cover city and county employers as well, in order to mitigate the stigma and blanket exclusion that qualified applicants with conviction records often face when seeking work. The legislation strikes a reasonable balance by allowing public employers to conduct a background check after the individual has been found qualified for the job.

In the past year, the nationwide movement to “ban the box” has gained significant momentum, with Maryland, Rhode Island, and Minnesota enacting legislation, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn committing to remove the background check question on state applications. In addition, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Mexico have all embraced similar reforms, and last year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission endorsed ban-the-box as a best practice.

The bill sets an example for the private sector and promotes public safety because employment is a significant factor in reducing recidivism, say advocates. In a recent op-ed in the Sacramento Bee, Father Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries and the Rev. Joseph Clopton, a member of Sacramento Area Congregations Together, explained, “It’s not just about fairness for people with records-it’s also good for California’s economy and for the safety of our communities to ensure we’re maximizing job opportunities for everyone.”

The State Senate vote follows the State Assembly’s passage of the bill in June, by a margin of 48 to 29. The bill now heads to Governor Jerry Brown, who has until October 13th to sign it into law.

More than 90 organizations, spanning labor, interfaith, reentry, civil rights, employment, criminal justice, and others groups, are backing the bill. “We applaud the State Senate and Assembly for moving this important policy,” said Rodriguez. “The ball is now in Governor Brown’s court. We urge him to sign this bill into law as soon as possible.”

For more information on ban-the-box, please check out NELP’s ban-the-box resource guide as well as editorial endorsements in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Sacramento Bee