Rep. Johnson’s ‘Ban the Box’ Bill Passes House

DOVER – The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation Tuesday designed to curb recidivism by giving people with a criminal conviction in their past a “foot in the door” when applying for public sector jobs.

Sponsored by Rep. James “J.J.” Johnson, House Bill 167 would prevent most public agencies in Delaware from requiring job applicants to disclose criminal history information when moving through the early steps of the hiring process. The bill does not impact private employers and does not eliminate an agency’s ability to look into an applicant’s criminal history – employers would retain every right to ask about an applicant’s criminal record, even perform a criminal background check, just not until after that applicant has sat down for an interview.

“In Delaware, more than two-thirds of the men and women we release from prison end up back there within three years. Without a stable job, without regular income, we know that the person who has committed a crime before is more likely to do so again,” said Rep. Johnson, D-New Castle. “Even for a jobseeker whose crime was long ago and has been all but forgotten, a simple checkmark in a box can send that application to the trash. This is not a ‘hire ex-felons’ bill. This is a ‘foot-in-the-door’ bill. It gives otherwise qualified individuals an opportunity to be considered on their merits first and their criminal histories second.”

Several groups are exempt from the proposal: state, county or municipal police forces, the Department of Correction, the Department of Justice, the Public Defender’s Office, the courts, or any position where federal or state statute requires or expressly permits the consideration of an applicant’s criminal history.

Rep. Johnson worked with the state Office of Management and Budget to address concerns raised in a committee hearing earlier this month, amending the bill to remove time limits for look-back provisions and replace a mandate that the state do business only with vendors who employ substantially similar employment practices and instead encourage similar employment practices in all business solicitations. The bill would take effect six months after being signed into law.

The compromise led several additional legislators to sign on to the bill as co-sponsors, raising the number to 17 representatives.

Ten other states and dozens of local jurisdictions, including Wilmington and Philadelphia, have enacted similar policies. HB 167 would have no impact on private businesses, but some companies already are moving in this direction. In preparation for an employment access law that took effect in Minnesota on January 1, Minneapolis-based retailer Target announced that it will no longer ask for criminal history information on any of its job applications nationwide.

HB 167 now moves to the Senate for consideration.