By Philip Walzer

Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Friday signed an executive order to eliminate questions about criminal history from applications for most state jobs.

The order does not apply to businesses in Virginia, but it encourages them to adopt "similar hiring practices."

"In a new Virginia economy, people who make mistakes and pay the price should be welcomed back into society and given the opportunity to succeed," McAuliffe said in a statement.

At least 14 other states have so-called ban-the-box policies, according to the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit organization based in New York. Three cities in South Hampton Roads -- Norfolk, Portsmouth and Virginia Beach -- have similar laws governing municipal job applications.

A ban-the-box bill was passed by the Senate but killed by the House in the recent General Assembly session.

"We've seen this go through the legislative process year after year," said Levar Stoney, the secretary of the commonwealth. "It was time for the governor to take the lead on it.... At the end of the day, he believes in second chances."

So does Stoney, based on first-hand experiences.

He said he doesn't remember the crime his father was convicted of, but "he struggled at times trying to find long, sustainable employment.... He worked odd jobs in McDonald's, landscaping and construction. He eventually landed a job and kept it for a very long time."

The order takes effect immediately.

Applications for "sensitive positions," which Stoney said include law-enforcement jobs, might still ask about criminal history.

In addition, some job candidates will be subject to background checks before the state hires them, Stoney said.

"State employment decisions will not be based on the criminal history of an individual unless demonstrably job-related and consistent with business necessity," the order said.

"Today's action by the governor better ensures that former offenders are judged on their merit, not their mistakes," Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said in a statement. "We urge local government leaders and executives of private companies to follow the governor's lead on this opportunity issue."

Matt Moran, a spokesman for Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates, said they had no comment on the order.

(c)2015 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)