Should someone convicted of a felony have to admit that on the first application for a job?
Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento and a group of his fellow Assembly Democrats don’t think so. They are pushing a bill that would prohibit a public or private employer from asking a prospective employee, on an initial application for employment, if they had been convicted of a crime.
It can affect a lot of people: About 8 million Californians, nearly one in three adults, have an arrest or conviction record.
It’s called the “Fair Chance Act.” Earlier iterations of the idea were called “Ban the Box,”referring to the box that would have to be checked on an application form if the applicant was a felon.
Specifically, the bill, AB 1008, would forbid an employer to include on an application for employment any question requiring the disclosure of an applicant’s criminal history, or inquire into an applicant’s criminal history, until the applicant has received a conditional job offer. An applicant who is turned down on the basis of a criminal history must be informed of the decision and can offer a response.
It can affect a lot of people: About 8 million Californians, nearly one in three adults, have an arrest or conviction record, which includes misdemeanors. McCarty says his bill would help “formerly incarcerated people support themselves and their families, (while) strengthening communities and boosting the economy and reducing recidivism.”
According to a legislative consultant, one multi-year study “observed that an employed person with a conviction history had a 16% recidivism rate compared to a 52.3% recidivism rate by those lacking employment.”
This employment barrier has particularly harmed African American and Latino former offenders, who have historically made up a majority of the state’s prison population.
But the proposal drew immediate fire from Republicans, who said it would hamstring employers, while key law enforcement groups have not yet taken a position.
But McCarty, a Democrat, said in a written statement that the bill seeks to “expand job opportunities for all Californians, especially those who have served their time and are looking for a fair chance to enter the workforce”
Co-authors of the bill, all Democrats, are Shirley Weber of San Diego, Chris Holden of Pasadena, Mike Gipson of Gardena and Eloise Gomez Reyes of San Bernardino.
In a joint statement, the Democratic co-authors say it’s needed to eliminated an unjustified barrier to minority employment:
“For decades, requiring job applicants to initially disclose their criminal history has been a prejudiced disqualifier for those seeking to break the cycle of criminal recidivism and enter California’s workforce. This employment barrier has particularly harmed African American and Latino former offenders, who have historically made up a majority of the state’s prison population and has suffered from higher unemployment rates in California.”
“This bill will hurt employers who would be unable to fully vet job candidates, yet still be held legally liable for negligent hiring.
“A former offender with a job, an income and hope for the future is less likely to reoffend,” Weber argues.
Republicans don’t think it’s a good idea.
“This bill will hurt employers who would be unable to fully vet job candidates, yet still be held legally liable for negligent hiring. The last thing we need in this state is more legislation that makes it harder for small businesses to survive in an already lawsuit-heavy environment,” said Assemblyman Heath Flora, vice chair of the Labor and Employment Committee.
The state Chamber of Commerce doesn’t like the bill much either. In its formal “oppose” letter, the Chamber said:
“Under this mandate, an amusement park, day care center, private health care facilities, transit drivers, etc., all who have positions with access to vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly, would be required to hire someone who has been convicted of serious felonies, such as sexual abuse of a minor, assault, drug possession/abuse, etc., if the applicant simply obtained a letter of reference.”
The California District Attorneys Association has not taken a position on the bill, and neither has the California Police Chiefs Association. The California State Sheriffs’ Association has a “watch” position.
McCarty spokesman Terry Schanz did not return repeated telephone calls from Capitol Weekly asking for comment.
AB 1008 won approval from the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment by a 5-2 vote on May 3 and was sent back to the seven-member Assembly Appropriations Committee, where a hearing is tentatively scheduled Wednesday. The committee is made up of five Democrats and two Republicans.