Alabama joins the long list of states considering "Ban The Box" legislation. The Alabama Prison Reform Task Force has considered a proposal that would keep employers from asking about an applicant's criminal record.
The Task Force is a co-partisan effort towards providing better employment opportunities. If you can't legally say no to the box because your criminal record does not qualify to be sealed or expunged, the next best thing is to at least allow you to prove yourself as being competent and qualified before looking at your record. The Task Force is being led by Senator Cam Ward, who is acting as the chairman and is a Republican, while the proposal was made by Senator Quinton Ross, a Democrat.
There are already 19 states that have some form of "Ban The Box" legislation. While most apply only to public employers, they are often extended to contractors, who are private employers. Most states have a version of the law that forces employers to wait until at least an interview and conditional offer are extended before a criminal background check is run on the applicant.
The Task Force will consider all options, but it will start with Senator Ross' bill he sponsored last year, one that said employers – both private and public – must make a conditional job offer before looking at an applicant's criminal record. He has yet to sponsor a bill for this year. The hope is that the Task Force will work together to come up with a bill that can be passed through the state legislature.
The purpose of the bill is to make sure ex-cons are given a real chance to earn wages that will help support themselves and their family. The number one factor behind those who succeed at keeping themselves out of trouble is a job that pays enough to live independently.
"A lot of people on the unemployment rolls continue to get the door closed in their faces," Ross stated. Senator Ward agrees, stating that it will also help reduce prison overcrowding. Ward pointed out that "Getting a job can be very, very difficult once you have that on your record."
However, Ward admits that it will be tough to get a bill as broad as the one Ross proposed, arguing that a narrower bill, one that only applied to state agencies, would get through. In fact, Rosemary Elebash, the state director for the Alabama branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, noted that a 2014 survey found tough opposition to the idea of extending "Ban The Box" to private employers.
The question asked to the NFIB's state members was "Should employers be prohibited from considering an applicant's criminal history until after the interview process has concluded?" The answer was "NO" by over 90% of the respondents. Reasons given include cost in terms of both time and money. Elebash said that "Interview are expensive. Drug tests, background checks, that's a cost to the employer." For his part, Ross stated that he is willing to work on an acceptable compromise. "We want to make this bill work," he said.