Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer Seeks Changes to ‘Ban The Box’ Ahead of Metro Council Vote

Threatening a veto, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s office is proposing a half dozen exemptions to the ban the box ordinance ahead of Metro Council members voting on the proposal Thursday.

The bill prohibits the city and its private contractors from asking about an applicant’s conviction history until it has been determined they’re qualified for the job.

But the mayor’s office has objected to the ordinance on a number of fronts.

Most recently, administration officials said ban the box will be burdensome for the approximately 26,000 vendors ranging from small businesses to major U.S. companies.

Fischer appears willing to support the ordinance, however, if sponsors adopt certain provisions.

“We are OK with ban the box law for Metro employees and future employees,” says mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter. “Our biggest concern is with that policy extending to our vendors. We have shared that concern with council.”

The mayor’s office is seeking to exempt routine retail purchases, certain cooperative contracts, and bid projects funded through the federal or state government.

It also wants an exclusion for “sole source” contractors, which are defined as companies that are the only capable supplier of a specific commodity or service in the metropolitan area.

In a March 11 e-mail obtained by WFPL, Fischer’s advisers tell council members the “sole source” exemption is needed for approximately 50 vendors such as AT&T, Louisville Gas & Electric and the United Postal Service.

Democrats behind ban the box met with Fischer administration officials on Wednesday to discuss those recommended changes, which are expected to be debated on the council floor.

“We have been working together to work through language that allows for Metro Government to be able to access the contracts it needs while addressing the intent of the ordinance,” says Councilman David Tandy, who is one of the eight Democrats behind the bill.

“There may be some amendments that get offered up on the floor at the council meeting. If that does happen we’ll take those up and discuss them, and hopefully pass that out from the full council on Thursday night.”

In February, the city of Indianapolis passed ban the box by an overwhelming bipartisan margin. Republican Mayor Mike Ballard and his office backed it as a practical effort to help former felons “join the workforce and lead crime-free lives.”

About 160,000 Louisville adults have a criminal record with most having a charge lower than a felony and serving no jail time. 

Social justice activists plan to hold a rally ahead of Thursday’s meeting to urge its passage with as little changes as possible. Those organizations behind the legislation argue Fischer, a Democrat, is proving to be more aligned with business interests than the mostly low-income residents who would benefit from this legislation.

“I don’t think the mayor has been supportive,” says the Rev. David Snardon, co-president of Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, or CLOUT, which supports the bill. “The mayor touts being a compassionate city, but the mayor has put his energies in other areas other than helping those citizens in the city who really need it the most. By virtue of not putting his weight behind this he has in fact minimized it, which is still problematic.”

It takes 14 votes for an ordinance to pass, but ban the box sponsors are hoping to have a veto proof majority in case Fischer blocks the bill. That will require an 18-vote bipartisan majority and Republicans remain wary about its intrusion on the private sector.

The GOP caucus supports the concept of ban the box as a re-entry program, says Councilman Kevin Kramer.

“I certainly don’t think it’s appropriate that a decision would be made as to whether a person would be a good employer or not before you ever even talk to the person just because there’s some box on an application that said they made a mistake when they were young,” he says.

But the minority party is steadfast that extending those rules to private businesses crosses a line.

“It’s one thing for us as a city to make decisions for the way we’re going to do things, but to mandate that folks who are going to do work with the city—which includes a whole host of people—that gets to be problematic,” says Kramer. “If Metro Louisville wants to do this with its own employees we’re fine with that, but when the government says in order to get a contract with us you have to have the same policies we do that’s overstepping.”

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