Business and Labor

Bill would strengthen criminal disclosure limits

The Business and Labor Committee heard testimony March 13 on a bill that seeks to strengthen existing limits on an employer’s ability to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history.

Sen. Danielle Conrad
Sen. Danielle Conrad

Currently, the state — except law enforcement agencies — cannot ask job applicants to disclose their criminal history until the applicant has been determined to meet the minimum employment qualifications.

LB367, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, would prohibit an employer or employment agency from inquiring into an applicant’s criminal history until after the applicant has received a conditional offer of employment. The bill’s provisions would apply to state governmental agencies and political subdivisions in addition to private employers with at least 15 employees.

Under the bill, an employer or employment agency could inquire through a verbal or written request for an applicant’s criminal history only if:
•the criminal history is required by federal or state law;
•federal or state law would disqualify an applicant from the position with a certain criminal background; or
•the disclosure request is limited to the types of criminal offenses that the employer is required to consider or that disqualify the applicant.

An employer would be required to notify an applicant if they intend to deny them employment due to a criminal record. An applicant would have 10 days to respond with mitigation or rehabilitation evidence or information.

Additionally, LB367 would require employers to maintain records regarding employment denials and would authorize the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission to investigate and impose sanctions of up to $2,000 for repeat violations.

Conrad said the bill’s intent is to ensure that all individuals have an opportunity to pursue employment. Having a job is one of the best tools to reduce recidivism rates, mass incarceration in state prisons and racial injustice in Nebraska, she said.

“What … legislation like this is meant to do is to remove barriers to second chance employment [and] address opportunities for people who have served their time to have a chance to pursue a meaningful employment opportunity,” Conrad said.

Jasmine Harris, testifying on behalf of RISE — a nonprofit focused on prison programming and reentry — spoke in support of the bill. Between 70 million and 100 million Americans have some type of criminal record, she said, and they should not automatically be disqualified from employment.

Susan Martin, representing the Nebraska State AFL-CIO, also testified in support. The thousands of people who are released from prison each year face many hurdles in rebuilding their livelihoods, she said, including limited access to advanced education, job training and good jobs.

“They desperately need labor protections,” Martin said. “We know that education, health care and fair pay are the three fundamentals that reduce or prevent individuals from becoming a part of the criminal justice system.”

Bob Hallstrom, representing the Nebraska Federation of Independent Business, the Nebraska Bankers Association and the Nebraska Insurance Federation, spoke in opposition. LB367 would allow an employer to look into an individual’s criminal history only after making a hiring offer, he said, which could cause significant hiring delays, especially for smaller businesses that don’t have a human resources department.

Ansley Fellers, speaking on behalf of the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association, also testified in opposition. Current state law does not prohibit employers from inquiring about or reviewing past criminal conviction records, Fellers said, however they cannot do so in a discriminatory manner. LB367 is not the proper solution to supporter’s concerns, she said.

“Ultimately, the record keeping and paperwork requirements under LB367, along with the hammer of financial penalties and civil suits, are untenable for businesses of just about every size,” Fellers said.

The committee took no immediate action on the proposal.

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