Senate bill prohibiting ‘Ban the Box’ moves forward

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Indiana lawmakers are trying to ensure one particular question stays on job applications: “Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime?”

Senate Bill 312 is their method.

The bill passed the House Courts and Criminal Code Committee 11-0 Wednesday and moves to the full House for consideration. The bill was approved by the full Senate 38-10 late last month.

The legislation, co-authored by Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, and Sen. Chip Perfect, R-Lawrenceburg, has two main parts related to “Ban the Box” laws and business protections for hiring criminals.

The first makes sure city and county governments can’t enact “Ban the Box” laws, which encourage—or even require—employers to remove the check box that asks potential employees to answer “yes” or “no” about whether they have a criminal record on a job application.

“Senate Bill 312 is an attempt to standardize hiring practices across Indiana,” Boots said.

Marion County is the only county in the state that has such a law, which only applies to potential public employees and to private companies that want to have a contract with the City of Indianapolis.

Indianapolis’ law, passed in 2014, was written in response to data that 70 percent of employers have a formal or informal ban on hiring people with criminal backgrounds. Some businesses may even automatically toss out applications from people who say they have been arrested or convicted.

Fishers attorney Ken Sondik said he agrees with the bill because it sets the precedent that Indiana is not a “Ban the Box” state.

“While ‘Ban the Box’ is a somewhat catchy slogan, we feel that it’s a bad policy,” Sondik said during his testimony before the panel Wednesday. “At a minimum, it delays a business’ ability to capture information about a candidate right from the get-go—information that may be highly relevant.”

But supporters of “Ban the Box” laws say the check boxes preemptively shut out potential employees without giving them a chance to explain the circumstances of their conviction or how long ago it happened.

They also say the question disproportionately has an impact on minority populations, who are disproportionately more likely to be incarcerated.

The second half of the bill reforms business liability. It would lower the legal concerns for a business that wants to hire someone with a criminal background, as it would give employers legal protection from any potential illegal actions of employees with criminal backgrounds.

“In other words, it encourages you to hire somebody that may have a criminal background but has turned their life around,” Boots said.

Vop Osili, a Democratic member of the Indianapolis City-County Council who wrote Marion County’s “Ban the Box” law, told the committee he’s fine with the legislature stripping his law off the books to make hiring practices uniform across the state—as long as the second half of the bill stays in.

“Because if it doesn’t, then we go back to where we were,” Osili said. “Where people basically make decisions on who even gets to an interview based on a box that doesn’t tell you how long ago the crime was even committed, whether or not the crime is even related to the job, whether the crime was a violent one or a nonviolent one. We’re back to square one.”

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, said he decided to vote in favor of the bill because local elected officials and community members have told him the business protections for hiring criminals advances their position about fair employment on a state level.

“I’m not confident that that second section is really going to change some people’s ingrained thinking,” Pierce said.

Other testifiers, who ranged from activists to business leaders, seemed to agree the bill would benefit both formerly convicted people looking for work and the business owners concerned about hiring them.

Barbara Underwood, Indiana state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said her organization supports the bill because the second portion will protect small businesses that choose to hire convicted criminals without the expertise of an in-house human relations executive or legal counsel.

“A box is a means to start a dialogue to explain their past to their potential employer,” Underwood said. “Employers are looking for a reason to hire, not to exclude.”

In total, 26 states have enacted similar legislation related to the criminal history question on applications. Indiana’s language is modeled after legislation passed in Colorado.

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