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Baton Rouge May Wait to Ask Employees About Criminal History

A proposal would expand the “ban the box” concept to the private sector, barring most contractors who do business with the city-parish from asking job applicants about their criminal history until late in the hiring process.

The number of East Baton Rouge Parish, La., businesses that ask job applicants about their criminal history early in the hiring process would drop under a Metro Council proposal that advocates say will decrease crime and increase economic opportunity for thousands.

The concept, known as "ban the box," is already mandated for the city-parish and the state hiring processes, but Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks' proposed ordinance is poised to expand it to the private sector. Banks wants to bar most contractors and sub-contractors doing business with the city-parish from asking job applicants about their criminal history until late in the hiring process.

"As a city and a state, we spend millions of dollars on professional training for incarcerated people," Banks said. "The employer may not even consider these people, so once we can bring attention to that, we give them the opportunity to hire some really great people."

Businesses could still perform background checks on prospective employees but would have to wait until after making a conditional offer of employment, Banks said. Businesses wouldn't be required to hire people with criminal records but are encouraged to do so if the offenses have nothing to do with the work to be performed, Banks said.

Banks has worked on the measure for more than a year with the Power Coalition for Equality and Justice, a progressive voting rights group in New Orleans.

Banks based her proposal on an ordinance in New Orleans. Other large cities around the country have similar laws on the books.

The proposal would expand Banks' 2018 ordinance that required the city-parish to remove questions about criminal history from its government job applications. That ordinance built on a 2015 resolution by state Sen. C. Denise Marcelle, who was a councilwoman at the time, that encouraged the city-parish to follow a national trend of implementing the practice.

Louisiana has the highest rate of incarceration in the nation, which leaves many people unable to find businesses willing to hire them when they get out, said Kaitlyn Joshua, an advocate for the Power Coalition. The lack of opportunities leads many to re-offend, increasing crime rates in communities, Joshua said.

The measure nearly passed during a council meeting last month, but the Parish Attorney's Office, which helps compose potential ordinances, requested a postponement to address several administrative matters.

The current version of the proposal would take affect 180 days after its approval to allow the city-parish time to establish compliance procedures, a key concern. Banks said she hopes the delay will satisfy her colleagues' concerns.

Most council members who commented on the item during debate seemed largely supportive of the policy.

But Councilman Dwight Hudson said it's already expensive to hire employees, and Banks' proposal could make the process even harder.

"I really feel like we're being onerous on the bidding public," Hudson said.

Contractors are already expected to meet a plethora of city-parish requirements, including fair hiring practices for minorities and other protected groups, Banks said.

"Complying with codes is part of every business," Banks said. "There are federal codes, state codes in every contract."

Banks noted that no business representatives testified against the proposal, adding that she has received little negative feedback from city-parish contractors.

The ordinance wouldn't apply to certain city-parish departments and agencies that deal with public safety, including the Baton Rouge Police Department, Emergency Medical Services, the Finance Department and the Greater Baton Rouge Airport District, among others.

(c)2023 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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