BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — State employers will soon evaluate job applicants based on skills and interview conversations, not a checkmark.
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the "ban the box" legislation into law Wednesday to block state employers from asking about job applicants' criminal histories before they are interviewed.
Edwards said the bill promotes opportunity by allowing the formerly incarcerated to "let the (hiring) folks know who they are, what their qualifications are, their interest in seeking employment, their ability to do the job" before criminal history is taken into consideration.
Louisiana joins 23 other states in adopting the hiring practice. New Orleans and Baton Rouge already had banned the criminal history box. The law will apply to the state's politically appointed 30,000-plus "unclassified" employee positions when it takes effect Aug. 1.
Louisiana's proposal is more modest than some others around the country, but it comes after both Republican and Democratic lawmakers pushed for bills during the regular legislative session to revamp the state's criminal justice laws.
Smart on Crime Louisiana, a bipartisan group that pushes for incarceration reduction, said the bill "ensures that former inmates have a fair chance to explain their record."
Holly Harris, executive director of the U.S. Justice Action Network, a bipartisan group advocating criminal justice reform, said the law helps to fight the stigma of a criminal record.
The proposal eventually gained traction among a number of interest groups across the political spectrum, including the Pelican Institute, ACLU of Louisiana, the Faith and Freedom Coalition and the Louisiana Family Forum. Similar legislative pushes have failed, but recent support from conservative and faith-based community groups helped to turn the tide, Harris said.
"As a society we are starting to talk about this in terms of public safety," she said. "Employment is one major obstacle to a crime-free life, and people are now agreeing this is the right thing to do — not just for moral purposes but for public safety."
The National Federation of Independent Business, along with other groups and some lawmakers, opposed the measure, saying it could lead to mandates for private businesses. Bill supporters disputed the claim at every turn, saying the proposal would merely provide an equal footing to applicants seeking state employment.
Harris pointed to research that suggests 1 in 3 American adults have a criminal record and, while incarceration data shows large racial disparities, the issue no longer only targets minority communities.
"This moment is pretty groundbreaking for Louisiana because if you go to church on Sunday and look to your left and look to your right, chances are you'll see someone who's had a brush with the law," she said.
The provision does not apply to rank-and-file "classified" state workers subject to Louisiana's civil service system, but similar hiring practices may eventually extend to them, according to testimony from Byron P. Decoteau, Louisiana civil service director. As of April 15, the state employed 39,913 classified employees and 31,759 unclassified.
The law won't remove an employer's ability to ask about criminal histories during job interviews or prevent them from seeking background checks. It also will not apply to positions in law enforcement, corrections or other positions that legally require criminal background checks.
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Posted on Fri, June 10, 2016
by MEGAN TRIMBLE, Associated Press