The Business and Labor Committee heard testimony Jan. 27 on a bill aimed at limiting public employers’ ability to inquire about an applicant’s criminal record.
LB932, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, would prohibit public employers from asking an applicant to disclose information concerning his or her criminal history until the employer has determined that the applicant meets the minimum employment qualifications.
The bill would not apply to law enforcement agencies, any position for which federal or state law requires a criminal history record check or for which federal or state law specifically disqualifies an applicant with a criminal background.
The bill would not prevent a public employer from conducting a criminal record check after determining that an applicant meets the minimum employment qualifications.
Avery said the bill – known as “ban the box” legislation – was modeled after a California law intended to minimize the impact of the stigma surrounding even minor criminal convictions. Many people come in contact with law enforcement in their youth, he said, which can hinder their job prospects for years.
“You make an initial application and there’s a box to check if you have a criminal background,” Avery said. “Usually that is where the application ends, because once you check the box, you don’t make it to the next stage.”
He said the bill could be an important component of prison reform. Individuals leaving incarceration need a fair chance to become gainfully employed, productive members of society, Avery said, adding that approximately 30,000 people in Nebraska fall into the category of ex-offenders.
Tommie Wilson, community liaison at Metropolitan Community College, testified in support of the bill. The state needs to do more to integrate individuals back into the community who are returning from prison, she said, and employment is an important part of the process.
“Because of the stigma of checking that box, it keeps them from employment,” Wilson said.
Willie Hamilton, executive director of Black Men United, also supported the bill, saying those who have served their time should not continue to be punished by not being able to obtain employment.
“We are the only industrialized country in the world that gives someone who has committed a crime a life sentence,” Hamilton said. “A mistake should not cost a person the rest of their lives.”
No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.