Politics
3:02 pm
Wed September 11, 2013

Louisville Metro Couldn't Ask Job Applicants About Criminal History Under Council Proposal

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An ordinance forbidding the city and its vendors from asking potential employees about their criminal records on job applications is being introduced this week before the Louisville Metro Council.

The legislation is known as "ban the box" and similar measures have passed in 10 states and more than 50 cities across the U.S.

Under the measure, the city and its private contractors would be prohibited from inquiring about an individual's conviction history on a paper application until it is determined they're otherwise qualified for the position.

"Part of being convicted of a crime and serving ones time is punishment enough," says Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, one of the five Democrats sponsoring the bill. "I'm willing to support asking questions about how old they were, how long has it been and have they served their time. I still think there is warrant for asking those questions eventually, but I certainly don't think it needs to be a checkbox on the application. I think it's immediate red flag when it shouldn't be."

Metro Government can still conduct a background check through the Human Resources Department once the job is formally offered, according to the legislation. And the city and vendors are also allowed to consider the nature of the crime, the time elapsed since the conviction and any information pertaining to the person's rehabilitation.

If the city were to reject an application based on their criminal history, the ordinance allows the applicant to appeal within two weeks of the decision.

Bonafacio Aleman is executive director of Kentucky Jobs With Justice and a supporter of the bill. He says many applicants with prior offenses are often disqualified automatically, but they deserve a chance to making a better living

"What’s been found by the Center for Economic and Policy Research report a couple of years ago is folks who have a criminal conviction are 15 to 30 percent less likely to get a job based on the fact of a criminal conviction," he says. "And sometimes the fact is a criminal conviction can be used in a discriminatory manner that goes against fair hiring practices."

The bill does have exemptions such as jobs supervising minors, handling confidential identify information and employment that involves financial transactions greater than $500.

The ordinance only applies to the city and its contractors, which wouldn't effect private business that have no dealings with the city.

"Businesses benefit when they have a wider applicant pool," says Chris Kolbe, co-president of the faith-based group CLOUT, which lobbied for the ordinance. "And it’s good for Louisville as a compassionate city. This is going to help keep people out of prison and jail where they cost taxpayers money. It’s going to put people on the path to self-sufficiency. So I’m cautiously optimistic because there’s really no down side to this legislation at all."

But the law isn't without its critics who caution it goes too far and violates the rights of employers by depriving them of being able to make informed decisions about potential hires.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Others say the laws potentially endanger both employers and the public. "We have a responsibility to protect our customers, protect other employees and then the company itself" from potential crime, said Kelly Knott, senior director for government relations of the National Retail Federation, an industry group in Washington, D.C., which hasn't taken a position on ban-the-box laws but has cautioned against federal guidance that could limit how employers use background checks.

Metro Government has already faced concerning questions about the lack of proper oversight using workers from Dismas Charities Inc., regarding the use of former inmates at city agencies.

It was reported earlier this year that violent offenders were placed at the Louisville Zoo through the non-profit's halfway house without additional background checks.

Republican caucus director Steve Haag says the council GOP hasn't had a chance to review the bill and want to better understand its ramifications. But there are concerns about telling vendors how to conduct their business.

"It's one thing for Metro to create a regulation that we'll follow, but to essentially force our policies onto other people is going to be a little bit more of a concern," he says "The other question we would have also is legislative versus executive authority. I don't know Metro Council has the right to tell the mayor's office his hiring practices."

The ordinance is being sponsored by Ward-Pugh along with Democrats Attica Scott, Cheri Bryant Hamilton, David James and Rick Blackwell. A spokesperson for Democratic Councilman David Tandy says he is also signing on as a sponsor.

It is set to receive its firsts reading at the full council meeting on Thursday where it is likely to be assigned to the Public Safety Committee.

Read the ordinance below:

(Image via Shutterstock)

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