Saying Louisville Metro has a policy not to ask about criminal records on job applications, Metro Human Resources Director Kellie Watson warned council members the so-called “ban the box” ordinance could complicate the city's hiring process.
But supporters believe the legislation is still needed in order to give convicted felons a fair chance when seeking employment.
The council's Labor and Economic Development Committee held its first hearing on the measure Thursday to gather more information about the proposal.
Under the measure, the city and its private contracts would be barred from asking about an individual’s conviction history until it is determined if they're qualified for the position.
Around four dozen supporters attended the committee meeting to speak in favor of the bill, arguing it levels the playing field for residents who deserve a second chance.
“As someone who teaches at Jefferson Community and Technical College, I have students who are former felons,” said Democratic Councilwoman Attica Scott, who is a “ban the box” co-sponsor. “And sometimes I have to look in the mirror and ask myself, am I setting them up for failure to go out into a society where they're not going to be able to get employment even with an associates degree.”
Officials with Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration pointed out to lawmakers, however, that Metro Government already has a screening process. Currently, the human resources department conducts and reviews background checks after city agencies interview and identify job applicants they'd like to hire.
But “ban the box” would mandate the city could not conduct a search into a person's criminal history until the job was offered to an applicant and it allows for an appeal.
“If there's anything that does come back that is reviewed by myself and the recruitment manager. The things listed in the ordinance are what we consider and we're the ones who make that decision,” Watson told committee members. “The department and their hiring manager never know about that (background) check, and the candidate never knows it's a consideration that we've made. This ordinance would change the way we have to do things.”
Under state law, no one with a felony conviction can apply to be in law enforcement. Other public safety positions have strict guidelines based on a person's criminal history.
The ordinance does allow certain jobs to ask applicants to check a box such as those supervising minors, handling confidential identify information and employment that involves financial transactions greater than $500.
Similar measures have passed in 10 states and more than 50 cities nationwide, but some on the council argue the legislation is poorly written, too broad and intrudes on private contractors who do business with the city.
“It sounds like we've got a policy already in place where we give people ample opportunity,” said Republican Councilman Ken Fleming. “So now we're talking about taking one more step to extend the offer. Is this necessary to have this particular ordinance?”
“Giving that conditional offer and the way the ordinance is currently proposed is problematic from human resources' perspective and our departments,” Watson said.
Supporters acknowledge changes to the ordinance might be required, but regardless of the current hiring practice they believe “ban the box” is necessary to protect workers if a future mayor decides to change that policy.
“While we consider the mayor, we have to be a very progressive mayor, we also live in America and that could change tomorrow and we could see a policy change tomorrow without this ban the box legislation,” says Kentucky Jobs With Justice Executive Director Bonafacio Aleman.
The committee voted to table the issue for further discussion later this month.