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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, September 15, 2015 by Jo Clifton
Ban the box ordinance moving forward
The proposal to ban the box that requires job applicants to say whether they have a criminal history is moving forward, but proponents – including City Council Member Greg Casar – hope to move slowly so as not to alarm companies intent on hiring.
Members of the Council Economic Opportunity Committee, including Casar, heard a report at Monday’s meeting from stakeholders involved in studying the issue. After the meeting, Casar said he is hopeful that members of the committee would be able to put together an ordinance they could bring to the full Council by the end of the year.
“My hope, after these stakeholder meetings, is to have an ordinance that applies citywide,” Casar said.
The city itself and Travis County have removed the box from employment applications. What that means on a practical basis is that the city and the county do not consider an applicant’s criminal history until he or she is closer to being hired, at which point the employer can consider whether the conviction is actually job-related and weigh that against the applicant’s qualifications.
Acting Assistant City Manager Mark Washington said the city has had “very favorable” results from banning the box. According to statistics provided in Casar’s resolution, similar ordinances have been adopted in six states, 25 cities and the District of Columbia.
Casar sponsored the “fair chance” resolution back in May, directing the city manager to set up the stakeholder group to get ready for an education program for employers and for the ordinance.
“It will be important to have an ordinance between this meeting and the next, for us to get into specifics on ordinance language,” Casar said. “Whether or not we can recommend that language at the next committee meeting or the one after that is really dependent on how comfortable committee members are and how much agreement and consensus we can reach.”
He added, “My hope is that through lots of education, it becomes a less scary thing. I can understand how folks don’t always connect the unintentional” instances of discrimination with questions about criminal convictions, he said. Many of the people affected are Hispanics and African-Americans.
Brian McGiverin, a member of the stakeholder group and an attorney who works on criminal justice issues, said that out of a population of 27 million in Texas, there are currently 12 million people who have some sort of conviction history, “creating a sort of permanent underclass” of people who have difficulty finding jobs.
Stakeholder group member Lauren Johnson told Council members that it was important to have a lot of outreach to companies. After the meeting, she said she would expect the policy “to give everybody a fair chance at being productive citizens, at having gainful employment and supporting their family.” She said she is looking forward to a shift in perspective in the community. The change, she said, doesn’t affect the way that employers hire people, but it does affect how they look at applicants at the beginning of the process.
Jennifer Jacqueline Conn, another member of the stakeholder group, told the committee that she has had a master’s degree since 2011 but has not been able to find a job because “when I was 19 years old, I committed a very stupid crime.”
Council Members Ora Houston and Leslie Pool both indicated support for the proposed ordinance. Council Member Ellen Troxclair, the chair of the committee, did not say how she felt about it
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council Economic Opportunity Committee: The Economic Opportunity Committee reviews the city’s economic opportunities and matters related to fair wage and business contracting policies.