City of Austin Considers Ban on Asking About Criminal History on Applications

AP File Photo/Harry Cabluck

In the latest “Ban the Box,” movement, an Austin, Texas city council member thinks that the city ought to adopt a “fair chance ordinance.” The movement is an attempt to force employers to stop tossing employment applications because of a checked box.

Austin City Council member Greg Casar told Fox 7 News that it is good policy to give people a “fair shot at a job.” He said, “Fair chance ordinances have started spreading around the country which creates more opportunity for people’s job applications not to get tossed because they have a past criminal history.”

The city councilmen added, “The point is we don’t want folks being discriminated in employment for criminal history that’s not relevant to a job they applied for.”

Casar said potential employers can still perform criminal background checks when they chose to and where they are required, and “an employer still has the opportunity to turn an applicant down because of their criminal history.”

Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation told Fox 7 News in Austin that the ordinance could be very detrimental to business growth in the city. Moreover, the employer would be vulnerable to civil liability if they refused to comply with an ordinance that “banned the box” on employment applications.

According to Fox 7, the Austin City Council will be allowing public comment on the issue on at the end of the month. Public comments will be compiled and submitted to the city council in September.

Ban the box movements are being promoted by civil rights groups and others around the world. The effort is to encourage employers to remove the check box off their employment applications, i.e., those that ask potential employees whether they have a criminal record. The thought is to allow those convicted of a crime to put forth their job qualifications before discussing their criminal records.

The Target Corporation, WalMart, and Home Depot have all banned the box.

According to a July 2015 article by NewsOK, more than 600,000 Americans are released from prison every year, and between 70 million and 100 million Americans, almost one in three, have some kind of criminal record according to the National Employment Law Center.

The Director of policy of the poverty to prosperity program at the Center for American Progress, Rebecca Vallas told NewsOK, “Even a minor criminal record can mean every door is closed to you as you seek to get back on your feet.” She added that nine of 10 employers do criminal background checks, as does four out of five landlords.

NewsOK reports that 18 states have banned the box for government jobs, and 11 cities have passed some form of “ban the box” laws. The organization also reported that men with criminal records comprise one-third of those who are nonworking between the ages of 24 years and 54 years old. Moreover, joblessness among these individuals reduced the GDP in 2008 by $57 to $65 million.

“An inability to find employment was a major reason ex-offenders wind up breaking the law again,” said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to News Ok. Deal signed a ban the box law that was similar to the state of Virginia’s.

Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served in Texas as a prosecutor and associate judge. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2


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