‘Ban the Box’ gets boost from lawmakers

Some lawmakers apparently don’t think the White House is moving fast enough to “ban the box.”

More than 50 members of the House of Representatives cosigned a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to make the federal hiring process more accessible to Americans with criminal histories by prohibiting questions about criminal background in the first stages of the application process.

In effect, this action would ban the check box asking if applicants have a criminal history from federal applications.

“Without a clear path forward for the legislation, we are respectfully calling upon you to drive these issues forward with executive action,” the April 20 letter said.

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The legislation the letter refers to is HR 3470, sponsored by Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) on Sept. 10, 2015. The bill was sent to the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections on March 23. Govtrack.us gives the bill 1 percent chance to get enacted. Its companion bill in the Senate, S 2021, the Fair Chance Act, has a 45 percent chance.

The letter made two requests for action on the part of President Obama. First, it asked that he direct the Office of Personnel Management to follow the 2013 recommendation of the Federal Interagency Reentry Council  by adopting the “ban the box” policy.

In 2012, the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission issued guidance recommending that employers cease any practices that would exclude applicants from employment based on any criminal record, and instead implement policy that establishes individual assessments of criminal history after first separately evaluating the qualifications of an individual. The letter asked that OPM adopt this policy.

On Nov. 2, 2015, President Obama announced that he would direct OPM to implement this policy within the federal government, at the same time encouraging Congress to pass legislation, as a successive president could rescind his order. Not long after, the Society for Human Resource Management said that OPM would propose this rule in May 2016.

The letter also asked that the president extend these policies to federal contractors. The letter said that “federal contractors employ nearly 25 percent of the nation’s workforce,” citing testimony from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Patricia Shiu before the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections in 2013.

The letter highlighted other major employers who have adopted these measures, including 22 states and companies like Starbucks, Home Depot, Target and Johns Hopkins University.

This is not the first such letter members of the House have written. They sent a very similar missive to the president in May 2015, with many of the same signatures on both letters.