Gongwer–Volume #84, Report #41, Article #23–Tuesday, March 3, 2015
House Committee Hearings — Commerce & Labor
HB 56: CRIMINAL RECORDS (Schuring, K., Slesnick, S.) To limit the use of criminal records in the hiring and employment practices of public employers. (CONTINUED; 2nd Hearing-Proponent)
The committee heard numerous witnesses testify in support of the “Ohio Fair Hiring Act.” Stephen JohnsonGrove, deputy director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, said passage of the bill would help the 1.92 million Ohioans who have a misdemeanor or felony record.
“We only do damage to ourselves and our economy if we keep this huge segment of our available workforce permanently marginalized. The Ohio Fair Hiring Act will responsibly open doors for these workers who have distanced themselves from their past mistakes and are ready to become even more productive as public workers,” he said.
The measure would delay public employers’ criminal-record checks until the end of the civil-service hiring process, he said. Once the background check is done, the hiring decision-maker must review the relevance of any criminal records based on a set of “commonsense factors,” he added. Mr. JohnsonGrove noted that the bill would not prohibit public entities from conducting background checks, like so-called “ban the box” measures do.
“It only regulates the timing of that process,” he added. At least a dozen cities and counties in Ohio have already adopted a version of the Fair Hiring policy, he said, listing: Cincinnati; Hamilton County; Cleveland; Cuyahoga County; Akron; Stark County; Dayton; Canton; Massillon; Alliance; and the City of Warren.
Akim Lattermore of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative said she found it fairly easy to find a job years ago after serving her prison sentence. However, in more recent years, with the advent of the Internet and the increasing prevalence of criminal background checks, finding a job has become much more difficult, she said. Ms. Lattermore told members that they have the power to help rectify the situation and give convicted felons a better chance to find gainful employment by passing the bill.
“It’s hard to return to society and feel like you belong when at every turn you’re being denied,” she said. “You want us to pay taxes; we want to pay taxes. You want us to work; we want to work.”
Kea Mathis of Akron said she faced “an absurd amount of rejection” after being released from the Ohio Reformatory for Women, even after she obtained a BS in nutrition science.
“As of now, I am continually being convicted with every application, every employer handshake,” she said.
Ms. Mathis said the measure would allow employers to disregard her criminal record if it is not relevant to the job duties. Rep. Koehler noted the bill would only apply to public employers and asked the witness whether she had a different experience trying to find employment in the private sector. Ms. Mathis said no, that private employers tend to follow the lead of public employers’ hiring practices. She expressed hope that the private sector would follow suit once public employers change their practices as a result of the bill.
Donna Gibson, coordinator for the Bridges Out of Poverty program, described her experiences working with people trying to find employment after release from prison.
“You look into someone’s eyes who has worked so hard to overcome their past and is doing such amazing work, and then you see them ready to give up because that box included on the job application just eliminated them from attaining a job they desperately need,” she said.
Raymond Greene said employers’ reliance on criminal background checks perpetuates discrimination against people who made a mistake in life long after they’ve served their sentence. He compared the condition of convicted felons to slavery. Responding to a question from Rep. Fedor, who said she would hire the witness, Mr. Greene said a lot of people say they would be willing to hire convicted felons, but the criminal background check process prevents employers from even meeting the applicants.
“We can’t even get an interview,” he said.
Rep. Koehler noted that the bill would still allow employers to reject him based on a conviction, even after a positive interview experience.
“This bill’s going to sort of keep me from wasting my time,” Mr. Greene said, noting that employers would have to list the kinds of felony convictions on the job application that bar potential applicants.