Ex-offenders looking for work or housing in Kansas City would not have to immediately disclose their criminal past, under a “ban the box” ordinance under consideration by the City Council.
More than 150 cities and counties have passed measures that bar businesses from asking job applicants about criminal history, usually in the form of a box to be checked. Such inquiries must be deferred until later in the hiring process.
Kansas City government adopted the policy for most city employees in 2013. Missouri approved it for state hiring in 2016. Councilman Jermaine Reed, who sponsored the original ordinance said it is time for the private sector to follow suit.
“We’re a leader in this category,” said Reed, a candidate for mayor in next year’s election. The ordinance is supported by several community and advocacy groups, including the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (MORE2).
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The ordinance was unanimously approved Thursday by the council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which is chaired by Reed. It is expected to go to the full council next week.
Proponents said that many of the estimated 4,000 people a year who return to the city from incarceration have trouble securing jobs, housing or basic services. The stigma of a criminal record keeps many from even seeking work and often leads to more trouble with the law.
“This is absolutely a public safety initiative,” Brittany Peterson, senior research specialist for the Kansas City Crime Commission, told the committee.
Employment prohibitions in state law –– barring sex offenders from working with children, for example––would still apply. The ordinance does not mandate that employers hire job candidates with criminal records. The intent is to allow the applicant an opportunity to first present his qualifications for the position.
“They still have the right to to deny that applicant employment, based on what qualifications they deem important,” said Phillip Yelder, the city’s human relations director.
Over the last eight years 139 ex-offenders have been hired by the city, according to the human resources department –– nearly 90 percent of those who applied. It is not known how many are still city employees.
A representative of the local restaurant industry urged the committee to amend the ordinance to allow those with criminal records to obtain employee liquor permits, which are required for all restraurant workers who handle alcohol.