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Government & Politics

KC Council votes to ‘ban the box’ for ex-offenders seeking jobs

The Kansas City Council voted Thursday to give ex-offenders a better shot at jobs by barring employers from asking about criminal records until later in the hiring process.

The city joins more than 150 localities in adopting the so-called “ban-the-box” law, eliminating from employment forms the box to be checked if the applicant has a criminal history.

Kansas City government adopted the policy for most city employees in 2013. Missouri established the ban for state hiring in 2016.

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Councilman Jermaine Reed, who sponsored the 2013 ordinance, said more than 9,000 area residents are on state and federal probation or parole. Many of them “continue to be stigmatized by old criminal records.”

Unemployment raises the likelihood of continued trouble with the law, Reed said.

The measure, supported by the city’s faith community and the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity (MORE2), does not require companies to hire workers with criminal backgrounds. It only allows applicants an opportunity to present their qualifications for openings.

Established prohibitions in state law, such as those keeping sex offenders from working around children, still apply.

City officials said 139 ex-offenders had been hired for government positions since passage of the 2013 ordinance, nearly 90 percent of those who applied. It is not known how many are still city employees.

Councilwoman Heather Hall, who said she “believes in second chances,” nevertheless opposed the ordinance on grounds that it would place unfair burdens on restaurant owners. Any restaurant workers who handle alcohol are required to obtain an employee liquor permit from the city. Those with criminal records are currently barred from receiving permits.

Hall said it would cost restaurant owners time and money to recruit and train workers, only to have them turned away by city liquor authorities.

Reed said liquor permits were a separate issue. He presented a letter from the city’s association of restaurant owners urging passage of “ban the box” and proposing that the liquor question be dealt with in a separate ordinance.

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