‘Ban the Box’ Legislation Under Fire

Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun, March 20, 2014

An influential business group is waging a last-minute effort to derail legislation aimed at helping ex-offenders find work in Baltimore, arguing that the measure would drive jobs from the city.

The Greater Baltimore Committee has asked the City Council to delay action on the bill, due for a final vote as early as Monday, until its impact on job creation can be fully evaluated. The legislation would bar most businesses from performing a criminal background check on a potential employee until the applicant has completed the interview process and a conditional job offer has been made.

But Councilman Nick Mosby, the bill’s sponsor, said Thursday he still has the votes for the measure to pass. To respond to concerns, Mosby said he planned to offer an amendment Monday that would exclude from the legislation positions for which a criminal conviction could disqualify an applicant. Sex offenders, for instance, are legally barred from working in child care centers.

“To corporations saying we already hire ex-offenders: I get that you hire people to be janitors or to work in the back of a kitchen, but I am talking about real opportunities,” Mosby said. “How can we make sure that we’re not giving out life sentences for people’s past transgressions?”


Several council members, such as Robert Curran and Sharon Green Middleton, pledged their continued support for the legislation, which passed unanimously on a preliminary vote. An aide to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake previously said the mayor intended to sign the bill but urged the council this week to work with the business community to smooth out concerns.


The bill—known as “Ban the Box,” referring to the box ex-offenders are asked to check on job applications—would apply to businesses with at least 10 workers, including contractual, temporary or seasonal staff.

The city and state already have restrictions on running background checks on candidates for government jobs. Across the country, about 10 other states and 60 municipalities have similar laws.

Baltimore runs the checks only on applicants who would work in “positions of trust,” such as police officers. Certain state offices in Maryland are prohibited from asking about past convictions until a candidate has been granted an interview.

Legislation also is pending in Annapolis that would shield certain old, nonviolent offenses from criminal record searches. Law enforcement agencies, court officials and some employers, such as day care centers and private security firms, would continue to have access to the entire record.

Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said the group has detailed its concerns from the outset—that the bill would impose a burden on city-based businesses not faced elsewhere in the region, and subject them to inappropriate criminal and civil penalties for violations. Fry said he wants to work with Mosby.


Fry’s group, made up of area business leaders, submitted a position paper opposing the bill weeks ago but began a more aggressive campaign last week with a strongly worded letter to the mayor and City Council. {snip}


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