Lawmakers Consider ‘Ban the Box’ Legislation

NJ Spotlight News | December 16, 2013 | Politics
A law would delay a job applicant's disclosure of a criminal record until after an offer.

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Assembly Republicans said today the Democrats are misinterpreting last month’s election.

If they’d only deal with the economy, then they’d meet the needs of the voters.

“But if they spend their time increasing regulation on business, thinking about more taxes and placing mandates on the private sector, they’re heading backwards,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.

Case in point, so-called Ban the Box legislation approved by the Assembly Labor Committee this morning.

Currently, a job applicant with a criminal or arrest record has to check a box on the application indicating so.

The bill would delay that until the applicant was actually offered a job, giving those with a record a chance to sell themselves first.

“You may have made some sort of mistake in your life and that does not necessarily mean you were incarcerated. You could have been a 19-year-old college student from Princeton who went out one night and smoked marijuana and got caught. You still have to check that box for the rest of your life,” said bill sponsor Sen. Sandra Cunningham.

“Once I’ve checked that box, which has happened in my personal experience, I never get a call back at all. And when I leave I know that application goes in the garbage,” explained Newark resident Arthur Townes.

“We say we believe in work and responsibility and paying taxes and carrying your load and contributing to society, but once people have paid their debt to society, they encounter this labyrinth, if you will, of exclusion,” said Cornell Brooks of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

But business organizations testified their members want flexibility when it comes to hiring, not another mandate that comes with paperwork and fines for violations.

“Many of our members offer home delivery services and they offer child care learning centers in their stores. This bill making it harder to do those background checks at the appropriate time for those types of applicants is a huge security concern,” said Mary Ellen Peppard of the New Jersey Food Council.

The narrative here was that Democrats are up to their old anti-business tricks. The competing narrative was that ex-offenders need jobs or they’ll revert to crime.

“Allow me to step into that room and sell myself, put on my suit and tie, look that employer in the face, give him a firm handshake, look him in the eye and let him know I’ll be an asset to your company,” said Camden resident Micah Kahn.

“It’s just compounded one thing after another — the minimum wage increase, the paid sick leave proposal, the Affordable Care Act and now we have this initiative,” Michael Egenton of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce said.

“I understand the concept that we want to allow people that have been convicted of crimes to have a second chance. All of us agree with that. But this bill is a disaster,” Bramnick said.