Politics
6:55 am
Fri March 14, 2014

Louisville Metro Council Votes 26-0 to 'Ban the Box'

A supporter urges Metro Council to pass 'ban the box'
Credit Phillip M. Bailey

The Louisville Metro Council unanimously approved the so-called "ban the box" ordinance Thursday after a debate filled with contention and compromise.

Under the measure, people seeking jobs with the city and many of its vendors will no longer have to fill out applications asking if they have a criminal conviction.

Mayor Greg Fischer's office initially said the measure was unnecessary given Metro Government already does not ask about a person's record.

But supporters who held a rally before Thursday's meeting argued the policy needed to be codified into law.

"The struggle to find work is a leading cause to (prison) recidivism rates," said the Rev. Sykes, an organizer with Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, or CLOUT.

"Ban the box is about people getting a fair shot at getting jobs with the opportunity to be interviewed and explain their past, demonstrate their talents, and show their intentions to rebuild their lives. As people of faith we believe in redemption."

Still, Fischer's office had concerns that many of the city's about 26,000 vendors would be unduly burdened by the law. But council Democrats assuaged the mayor by passing six exemptions the administration had sought at the outset, while reminding onlookers of Fischer's "compassionate city" mantra along the way.

How The Vote Played Out

For nearly three hours city lawmakers discussed various issues about the ordinance, including its cost, potential lawsuits and definitions of city vendors.

Council Republicans accused the Democratic majority of pushing ban the box through too quickly and that they hadn't seen the full ordinance until a day before the meeting. 

Republican Councilman Kelly Downard said the poor wording of the bill would make it an "administrative nightmare" to implement.

"We've been going so fast there are some things that we missed along the way. This has so many loose ends it concerns me," he said.

"I offered that we take a few weeks to get the verification so we understand what we're getting into. I don't believe that anybody thinks—I'm going to go off the wall here—that any company in this city should be able to ask on their application that box. I don't whether they're vendors or not, but it's how we impact and take care of it that matters."

At one point, GOP members sought to study the legislation's financial impact, which would have delayed the bill for as many as 30 days until an agreement was reached.

Kentucky Jobs With Justice leader Bonafacio Aleman says called those maneuvers legislative "circus tricks" which were being used to detour the bill.

"A lot of the questions that came up tonight and their hold ups have been some of the same things—‘How much is the cost?’ and ‘What’s the impact?’—some of these were asked months ago in committee," he said. "We saw some of these tactics being used tonight. Sadly the council meeting got drug out to 10 o’clock to have these same questions answer and they’ve been answered time and time again."

In the end, Democratic Councilman David Tandy, one of the original eight sponsors, huddled with ban the box supporters and Downard separately during a 10-minute recess to forge a compromise.

'Ban the box' supporters in City Hall
Credit Phillip M. Bailey

Rather than having vendors supply their applications to the city, people will drive the enforcement by being able to file a complaint with the Human Relations Commission within 30 days of receiving an application if a company doing business with the city asks about their criminal record.

Ban the box will apply to vendors that do more than $2,500 in business with the city.

Among its exceptions are jobs involving confidential information, handling more than $500 in financial transactions, unsupervised access to children, the elderly and residential homes and law enforcement duties.

The mayor sought exemptions for companies prohibited by law from hiring felons, bid projects funded by state or federal dollars, and "sole source" contractor that are the only capable supplier of a specific commodity or service in the metropolitan area.

The Reaction

After the 26-0 vote, Fischer lauded the council and called ban the box "compassionate legislation." He says he will encourage other vendors to voluntarily follow the city's lead.

Social justice groups behind the bill said, even with the changes, ban the box will benefit 160,000 Louisville adults who have criminal records by giving them an opportunity to re-enter the job market.

Those supporters plan to launch an education campaign to inform residents about their rights under the new law.

Tandy said the debate going into the late hours was worth it in order to get a bipartisan vote.

"I believe in not being set in my ways, and not saying just because I’ve got the votes to do something that you can go forward and you do it," he said. "I was one not wanting to sacrifice good for perfect. The suggestion that was presented took us from good to better and still gets us to where we want to be."

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