PINE BLUFF -- The Pine Bluff City Council approved an ordinance to remove a checkbox regarding past criminal history from city job applications, becoming another city to join the nationwide movement to "ban the box."
The ordinance, sponsored by Mayor Shirley Washington and Alderman Lloyd Holcomb Jr., was to be introduced initially on March 18, but was pulled from consideration to allow City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott and Human Resources Director Vickie Conaway to look the ordinance over and suggest any changes.
When contacted on Monday, Conaway told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that she and the city attorney elected to remove language from the original ordinance that related to how background checks were to be conducted, saying the language was unnecessary.
"We already have a system in place to conduct background checks so we had that language removed from the ordinance," Conaway said. "The main thing the ordinance is for is to ban the box and that is what the language reflects."
The move is billed as a way to help those with criminal records re-enter the workforce without confronting the stigma of their criminal background before it is determined if they are qualified for a job.
"When you see that on an application, you automatically, sometimes, throw that application away," said Holcomb. "We'll still do the background checks, but doing this allows people a chance at a fresh start, to present themselves in the most positive light before the information comes out that they have a record."
Holcomb said that otherwise, many job applicants would never get to interview because their criminal record is known up front, and getting that chance can overcome the stigma of a criminal record.
"We as a council tonight are taking the step forward to help those who are trying to make a better life for themselves," he said. "Now, we have jobs that, by law, those with a criminal background cannot be hired for. But as a city, we have plenty of jobs where a felony is not a barrier to employment and by taking that box off of the application, we're giving people a chance to better themselves without that stigma."
Washington said the ordinance will go into effect in 30 days and the city is working to have the new job applications available.
To date, according to the National Employment Law Project, the following states have adopted statewide laws or policies: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
In Arkansas, Little Rock and Pulaski County have both done away with the criminal history disclosure on initial job applications. Applications for employment with Jefferson County, of which Pine Bluff is the county seat, do have a question regarding criminal history.
Elsewhere, job applications for the city of White Hall, the second-largest city in Jefferson County, ask about felony convictions and past bankruptcies.
State Desk on 05/07/2019