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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

City Council Members Vote Ex-Offender Bill Out of Committee to Full Council

Posted by on Wed, Jun 5, 2013 at 4:33 PM

Dozens of people showed up at City Hall today to overwhelmingly urge the city council's Public Safety Committee to pass progressive legislation that would delay criminal background checks in the interview process for new employees. Council members unanimously voted the bill out of committee, forwarding it on to the full council for a vote sometime in the near future.

Among the 40 or so people who testified were several ex-offenders, both men and women, who spoke to their experiences of being perennially homeless or underemployed, ostensibly because simple background checks revealed their criminal history. "I’ve been clean and sober since 2009. I’ve worked to change my life," testified a 56-year-old man named Mr. Lombarti. "I’ve been homeless since 2007 when I was released from jail. I tried to apply to jobs but I was repeatedly denied."

"I'm a convicted felon, I served my time, I have training but I can't get a job because I'm a convicted felon," simply testified another man, Mr. Shroeder.

It seemed pretty clear that committee members supported the spirit of the legislation, the larger question was, in what form? Several amendments were proposed to the bill today, but civil rights advocates took issue with one opposed by council member Sally Bagshaw in particular.

Bagshaw's pro-business amendment would've given employers more freedom in refusing to hire ex-offenders. The legislation already empowered employers to refuse to hire ex-offenders if they have a "legitimate business reason" and believed "in good faith" that their past crimes:

1. Will have a negative impact on the employee’s or applicant’s fitness or ability to perform the position sought or held.

2. Will harm May harm or cause injury to people, property, or business assets, or business reputation

But Bagshaw's amendment struck through "Will have" and replaced it with "May have" in both clauses. This may seem like a slight change but it has larger legal ramifications, as numerous civil rights and legal organizations testified today.

Here's how the Seattle Human Rights Commission, which helped draft the original legislation, explains the effect of Bagshaw's amendment:

The Commission is very concerned that the Committee may consider an amendment to the bill that would create a loophole so large that it could undermine the entire purpose of the bill. The amendment would further weaken the already weak “legitimate business reason” exception by changing “will” to “may” and thus no longer require employers to believe that a certain crime will have a negative impact or will cause harm or injury to the business. Instead the employers will be able to avail themselves of the legitimate business exception by simply saying “in good faith” that they believe a crime “may” have a negative impact or cause harm or injury to their business. That is such a broad and tenuous standard that in practical terms, it makes any crime subject to the exception. The exception would swallow the rule. The Commission strongly opposes any such amendment. We urge the Committee to reject the amendment.

Civil rights advocates such as the Defender's Association, homeless shelters, and the Homeless Prevention Program (which is part of the nonprofit, Solid Ground) also urged council members to pass the measure as-is, without Bashaw's controversial amendment.

Merf Ehman, an attorney for the nonprofit Columbia Legal Services, explained that earlier changes to the legislation—specifically, removing language that stated employers couldn't refuse to hire an otherwise qualified applicant based on their criminal history unless their was a direct link between the job and their criminal record (like a convicted bank robber applying for a bank security job)—had already watered down its potency and civil rights groups only continued to support this legislation because of its strong "will" wording.

"If it does put a burden on the employer, even slight, I think that's a good thing," said Harrell, siding with Ehman and civil rights groups. "The 'may' standard becomes so weak that it virtually becomes meaningless."

"I don't see how we could enforce this [legislation] with 'may,'" agreed council Mike O'Brien, adding that "we need some standard to hold [employers] up to."

(Meanwhile, Bagshaw boasted about being on a King County ex-offender re-entry coalition, even as she offered up this amendment to basically undercut important, progressive legislation to help ex-offenders at the behest of business interests. Personally, I found her comments incredibly disingenuous, and well, weasely. Bashaw's a former lawyer—she knew what kind of effect her amendment would have on the bill.)

In the end, the committee voted 3-3 on Bagshaw's amendment (with Bagshaw, Jean Godden, and Sally Clark voting for Bagshaw's amendment and Harrell, O'Brien, and Nick Licata voting against it). Ties fail in the council, so Bagshaw's amendment was shelved.


Comments (18) RSS

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First of all one should proof one's blog entries before publishing -- its council member BAGSHAW I counted at least two "Bashaws", and its an amendment she PROPOSED not "opposed"...

That being said -- this is yet another way for Seattle to drive employers out of the city. If I'm employing someone I have the right to choose who I hire, and being a convicted felon is not, nor should it be a protected class. I've hired convicts and I've rejected convicts, but it's my business and I get to make that decision, not the city of Seattle.
Posted by HMRBEAR on June 5, 2013 at 5:36 PM · Report this
Cienna wrote, "But Bagshaw's amendment struck through `Will have' and replaced it with `May have' in both clauses. This may seem like a slight change but it has larger legal ramifications, as numerous civil rights and legal organizations testified today."

It would only seem like a slight change to someone who isn't paying attention or doesn't understand English.

It's highly unlikely for them to do so, but pigs may fly. Basing a policy on whether pigs may fly is quite different than basing one on whether they will fly.
Posted by Phil M http:// on June 5, 2013 at 5:55 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 3
#1 And the same can be said for race or gender or or or. Fire and hire anyone you want, but get caught breaking the law (all laws are the "city" telling you what to do or not to do. You've lived with that reality for a long time) and your attitude will be adjusted. To discriminate against a citizen who has paid for what they wanted to do (be it bad or good) is wrong. I want homelessness to end, but if those that are homeless are never given jobs, and then never allowed to rent any space, they are always homeless (thanks to those that see them as forever having to pay some "debt" to them as members of "society).
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on June 5, 2013 at 5:57 PM · Report this
I see it less as a protected class issue and more of a recidivism issue. The latter argument is much easier to make than the former.
Posted by wxPDX on June 5, 2013 at 6:58 PM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 5
In this "Christian Nation" we must always remember the words of Jesus "A man shall be punished by society for any misdeed for the rest of his life on earth. Forgiveness is the sign of Satan"

Not sure where that is at in the Bible but I'm sure a troll will point it out
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on June 5, 2013 at 7:16 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 6
Sorry, but I'm not buying. How can anyone prove that a criminal record "will have a negative impact"? Who can predict the future? Refuse to hire a convicted embezzler and you get the HRC breathing down your neck because you can't prove what will happen in the future. I applaud the sentiment, but this legislation is straight out of la-la land. Lets have some reporting on how many ex-cons the Stranger has working late at night.
Posted by kk in seattle on June 5, 2013 at 10:32 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 7
@3: Comparison to race and gender is bullshit, as well as completely offensive. If you can't figure out the difference between immutable characteristics and criminal activity, then it's no wonder you've (obviously) never been put in a position of authority to hire anyone. Prospective employers aren't asking anyone to "pay their debt," They just see a criminal background as valid evidence of whether someone would do a good job, which usually entails following rules, not breaking laws. You might as well say that high school dropouts are at risk for homelessness, so employers shouldn't "discriminate" on the basis of education. This whole thing is frankly crazy. I expect overriding legislation from Olympia in 5, 4, 3 . . .
Posted by kk in seattle on June 5, 2013 at 10:41 PM · Report this
kk in seattle 8
And Cienna, I find your smug dismissal of Councilmember Bagshaw's work on a re-entry coalition repulsive. What the fuck have you ever done for ex-cons?
Posted by kk in seattle on June 5, 2013 at 10:53 PM · Report this
@7, the comparison was to the necessity to follow laws, not to who individuals are/what they've done. Laws. You know, what we elect our representatives to enact, whether city, county, state, or federal. As far as Olympia, I think they're busy (or should be) with a budget.
Posted by sarah70 on June 5, 2013 at 11:03 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 10
I agree with @1 because our unemployment rate of 4.6 percent clearly shows that no employer wants to work in Seattle.



Never mind.
Posted by Will in Seattle on June 5, 2013 at 11:41 PM · Report this
Ballard Pimp 11
@1--Okay, how do you feel about sex? I can easily imagine you asking for a list of sexual partners. After all, it's your business, huh?
Posted by Ballard Pimp on June 6, 2013 at 12:10 AM · Report this
@8, What the fuck have *you* done, on that same note?
Posted by FonsieScheme on June 6, 2013 at 3:50 AM · Report this
@11: Holy shit, did you just draw a comparison between having sex and committing a felony?
Posted by doceb on June 6, 2013 at 5:56 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 14
Whenever anything happens in Seattle (or Washington State, for that matter) that someone disagrees with, we always hear the same old OMG THIS WILL MAKE ALL THE EMPLOYERS/RICH PEOPLE LEAVE!!!!!

It never happens (although I kind of wish it would - at least the rich people. And they can take all their wannabes with them. This town was a lot more fun before all the rich people arrived.)
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on June 6, 2013 at 8:20 AM · Report this
As a person who employs well over 100 people, I support this law. There is no question that so many employers use background checks and deny jobs to people based on any excuse they can find, that it can be very difficult for someone coming out of jail to find a job. And if someone can't work, they are probably more likely to end up on the street, and eventually commit more crimes. Or at the very least be a deterrent to business activity in the downtown core and end up being another person reliant on our housing and social service system that can't get our of that system.

If businesses in Seattle want to see an improvement in the atmosphere in the downtown core, steps like this are needed. At the same time, we need to reform the social service/ housing funding and operations, but that is coming.

Since our arrests and prosecutions are also racially biased, this law should also help increase the minority workforce.

The argument we are driving businesses out of Seattle is complex. At some point, yes, it will be difficult to open and operate new small businesses in Seattle if there are too many laws making business difficult. However, I don't see this law creating a huge burden on business. And I hire people weekly. I have yet to do a criminal background check. In fact, we have even taken advantage of federal tax credits for hiring felons (which many small businesses don't know about but should).
Posted by Meinert on June 6, 2013 at 8:58 AM · Report this
I'm usually a right-wing nut, but this law makes total sense.

First, if you're relying on job applicants to check a box stating they've been convicted of a felony, which applicant is more likely to cause trouble: the one who honestly checks 'yes' or the one who dishonestly checks 'no'? You're essentially weeding out the cohort of honest ex-convicts and letting in the liars and sociopaths.

Then there's the provision that (from KOMO): "[the law] would only allow employers to ask for criminal background checks after evaluating and identifying several qualified candidates. Similar laws are on the books in five other states."

Who's going to be conducting background checks on the first pass? Waste of time and money.

So by eliminating the check box, you're actually getting to know the candidate before including their criminal record in the evaluation, which seems absolutely fair. I don't see how this adds any onerous regulation at all to the hiring process.
Posted by Billy Chav on June 6, 2013 at 9:28 AM · Report this
sikandro 17
What a waste of paper it would be if Bagshaw's amendment went through. More harmful than nothing at all, since it gives the appearance of progressive legislation without the reality.
Posted by sikandro on June 6, 2013 at 10:03 AM · Report this
kk in seattle 18
@12: I read to prisoners each Friday afternoon. You?
Posted by kk in seattle on June 6, 2013 at 1:23 PM · Report this

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