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Jon Ortiz

The State Worker: Which 'common-sense' view on criminal records will prevail?

Published: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Thursday, Sep. 5, 2013 - 12:09 pm

A week after The Sacramento Bee detailed an employee's return to state government after a two-year prison term for embezzling $320,000, we're still hearing about it.

The High Speed Rail Authority fired Carey Renee Moore last year, accusing her of lying about her crime on her job application. When it blocked her unemployment benefits, she appealed and won.

Why? The state had deleted check-box questions about felony and domestic abuse convictions from its standard application forms because of concerns that they chilled recruiting and could promote racial discrimination.

Applications for law enforcement and other sensitive positions still ask the questions on supplemental forms. Departments can do a background check on anyone who passes initial screening. That didn't happen in Moore's case.

A typical online comment about the story: "Common sense has crashed in California."

But there's another common-sense argument articulated by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson. His AB 218 would make the state's ban-the-box policy a law and extend it to 6,000-plus local and regional government agencies.

"The key to reducing recidivism and maximizing public safety is to increase job opportunities for those who have been offenders," the Sacramento Democrat said Wednesday.

He points to studies that show jobs keep felons out of jail and statements by some government officials that appreciative employees with a criminal past can be hard-working and dedicated.

A least a half-dozen states have similar laws, according to the National Employment Law Project, and local governments in 23 states de-emphasize criminal background checks. Among them are Alameda and Santa Clara counties, Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco.

Last year the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advised that employers not ask about convictions on job applications because it risks running afoul of federal civil rights law, because a disproportionate percentage of African Americans have criminal records.

In June, the commission backed up its advice by suing a South Carolina BMW manufacturing plant and retailer Dollar General, alleging they violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act "by implementing and utilizing a criminal background policy that resulted in employees being fired and others being screened out for employment," a press statement said.

SEIU Local 1000 and the ACLU are among the long list of supporters for Dickinson's bill. Opponents include the League of California Cities and the California District Attorneys Association.

Other opponents suggest that opening the door wider for ex-cons to enter civil service would undercut the public trust in government.

The Assembly has OK'd the measure. The Senate, which killed a similar bill in committee last year, will soon vote, testing which view of "common sense" will prevail.

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Call The Bee's Jon Ortiz, (916) 321-1043. Follow him on Twitter @thestateworker and read his blog, The State Worker.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at


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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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