Sacramento City Council committee considers ‘ban the box’ legislation

Soon after he was elected, Sacramento City Councilman Larry Carr was hosting a job fair for residents of his district when a woman in her mid-40s came up to him and told him there wasn’t a single application she could fill out and expect to get an interview.

The problem was the box on the application asking if she’d been convicted of a crime. She had spent time in prison about 20 years before, she said, and checking that box meant most employers wouldn’t consider her application. An ordinance passed on to the City Council on Tuesday by the Law and Legislation Committee would ban that box for entities bidding for city contracts of more than $100,000.

Councilman Jeff Harris said at the committee meeting that he has hired an ex-felon at his construction company because the person was able to convince him in a job interview that their criminal history would not affect their work.

“I trusted (the explanation) and it turned out to be a pretty good working relationship,” he said.

Harris said it’s important to note that the ordinance doesn’t prevent employers from asking about criminal history in job interviews or require them to hire people with records – it is meant to allow people with prior convictions who have the appropriate job qualifications to get to the second step of the application process.

“Everyone has to have the chance to get past their previous mistakes,” Carr said. “Otherwise you’re telling people who have made a mistake that they’re not going to have a job, and that leaves them very few options.”

If a person meets the tests for an interview, Carr said, then an employer can ask about criminal history and the applicant is afforded a chance to explain what happened, why it happened and how they’ve corrected it. City staff members said the ordinance would affect at least 100 city contracts per year.

Councilman Rick Jennings, who is the chief executive for a nonprofit that works with families and communities in Sacramento, said that as a person who works in this field, he is happy to support the ordinance.

“I believe so strongly that when someone is sitting in front of you for an interview and they can’t get past the initial interview, they can’t move forward with their life, their family suffers, their community suffers and they continue to suffer even though they’ve repaid their debt to society,” Jennings said.

The committee unanimously passed the ordinance.

California passed a bill in 2013 banning the box on applications for local and regional government jobs. A 2010 executive order from the governor already banned the box on state job applications, though there are exemptions for jobs such as California Highway Patrol officers. Sacramento’s ordinance would include an exemption for supply contracts and positions that are otherwise required by law to make criminal-history inquiries.

An international campaign, “Ban the Box,” has succeeded in getting the question removed from forms in more than 100 cities and counties across the U.S. Twenty-three states have similar policies.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison