Senate Panel OKs Federal ‘Ban the Box’ Measure

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By Louis C. LaBrecque

Oct. 8 — Federal agencies and government contractors would be prohibited from asking about a job applicant's criminal history until after making a conditional employment offer, under “ban the box” legislation approved by voice vote Oct. 7 by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The Fair Chance Act (S. 2021) was introduced Sept. 10 by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), joined by a bipartisan group of co-sponsors who said they expected quick action from Congress on the measure. The Senate panel approved a substitute amendment from Booker and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman of the committee, during the markup.

The measure would cover federal executive branch agencies, along with the U.S. Postal Service, the Postal Regulatory Commission and the Executive Office of the President.

However, it wouldn't cover job applicants for positions where “consideration of criminal history record information prior to a conditional offer with respect to the position is otherwise required by law,” according to the text of the bill. These include federal law enforcement and national security jobs, along with other federal positions where the Office of Personnel Management has determined that criminal history queries are necessary, the bill says.

The OPM under the measure would be responsible for issuing regulations identifying additional exempt positions, “giving due consideration to positions that involve interaction with minors, access to sensitive information, or managing financial transactions,” the legislation specifies.

‘Millions’ Have Records That Affect Employment

“If someone getting out of prison wants to work, wants to be a productive member of society, we should do everything we can to facilitate that. The dignity of work is one of the best ways we can keep people from turning back to a life of crime,” Johnson said in an Oct. 7 statement with Booker.

The committee's approval of the Fair Chance Act “is a testament to the growing bipartisan support for reforms that break down barriers to hiring people who've paid their debt to society and are looking to turn their lives around,” added Booker in the joint statement. “There are millions of Americans with records who are too often passed over by employers without considering their skills or qualifications.”

According to the statement from Johnson and Booker, more than 70 million Americans have criminal histories.

“Studies show that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent for men in general. African-American men with criminal records are 60 percent less likely to receive a callback or job offer than those without records,” the statement said.

It added that 18 states and more than 100 cities and counties have enacted policies to help people with criminal records avoid having to “check the box” about a past felony conviction on a job application. “Additionally, companies such as Walmart, Koch Industries, Target, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath & Beyond have embraced similar policies to more fairly assess job applicants,” the statement said.

Other co–sponsors of the measure are Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

On the House side, similar legislation (H.R. 3470) was introduced Sept. 10 by Reps. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), along with original co-sponsors Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich) and Robert C. Scott (D-Va.). Cummings is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Louis C. LaBrecque in Washington at llabrecque@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com