Bill to delay background checks advanced

Senators gave first-round approval Feb. 20 to a bill that would require a prospective employer to evaluate a job applicant’s qualifications without an initial check of his or her criminal history.

Sen. John McCollister
Sen. John McCollister

LB254, introduced by Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, would bar certain employers and employment agencies from asking about a job applicant’s criminal history until the employer or agency determines whether the applicant meets the minimum qualifications of the position. The requirement would apply to businesses with 15 or more employees.

McCollister said the bill would let job applicants move on and begin again after they have paid their debt to society.

“We have nothing to fear from the changes proposed by LB254,” he said. “It simply would allow an applicant who may have made a mistake in his or her past to get a foot in the door.”

Blair Sen. Ben Hansen introduced an amendment, adopted 36-1, which instead would require an employer that asks an applicant to disclose his or her criminal history to afford the applicant the opportunity to explain a past conviction or other criminal history.

The amended bill would not apply to the state of Nebraska, local governmental agencies or political subdivisions.

“I like the intent of this bill,” Hansen said. “However, I felt it puts an undue burden on employers by forcing them to … play psychologist with each applicant to explain why he or she did what they did.”

Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln supported the amendment, which she said eased her concerns regarding the practical application of the bill’s provisions.

“As a society, we need to change our perspective about allowing former inmates to enter the workforce,” Geist said. “This will help reintegrate inmates back into society and reduce recidivism.”

Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht opposed the bill, saying that it did not make sense to have different rules for different employers.

“Everybody should be able to tell you what the issues were in their past [in order to] be able to come to work for an employer,” she said.

Senators voted 39-2 to advance LB254 to select file.

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