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Criminal history questions for job seekers could be banned in St. Louis under proposal

Criminal history questions for job seekers could be banned in St. Louis under proposal

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ST. LOUIS — The Board of Aldermen on Friday began debate on legislation to prohibit private employers in the city from basing many hiring and promotion decisions on an applicant’s criminal history.

The measure also would bar companies with 10 or more employees from including questions about convictions and related items on an initial job application.

The bill is part of the national “ban-the-box” movement, which seeks to remove check boxes or questions on job applications that require applicants to disclose any criminal convictions.

The sponsor, Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, said the bill “is about giving people a second chance and expanded employment opportunities.”

He said the measure builds on former Mayor Francis Slay’s 2014 executive order ending a requirement that felony convictions be disclosed on applications for city government jobs. Former County Executive Steve Stenger signed a similar executive order affecting county employees in 2018.

The legislation includes language that provides for some exemptions, including for employers who can show that a rejection based on criminal history “is reasonably related to or bears upon” the particular job’s duties. Employers also must base such decisions on all information available including the severity, frequency and recentness of the crimes.

The measure does allow employers to make criminal background checks once they determine an applicant is otherwise qualified for a job and after the person has been interviewed.

No one spoke against the measure, which is similar to legislation enacted in Kansas City and Columbia, Missouri.

However, Collins-Muhammad held off seeking a vote after some aldermen said they wanted some changes considered.

For example, Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward, said the bill needs more specifics concerning employers’ responsibilities and pointed out that companies large and small have a wide range of personnel processes and policies.

A leading local business group, the St. Louis Regional Chamber, didn’t respond Friday to a request for a comment on the bill. No business representatives appeared at an aldermanic committee hearing on the measure.

Alderman Bret Narayan, D-24th Ward, expressed concern the measure doesn’t specify an appeal process for employers accused of violating the law.

He said he supports the bill’s goal and doesn’t want to give “big business interests” ammunition to get it thrown out by the courts.

Collins-Muhammad noted that the measure allows the aldermanic Legislation Committee to conduct “investigative hearings” concerning alleged violations.

The measure allows people to submit complaints to the city Civil Rights Enforcement Agency, which would investigate them and send those with merit to the license collector’s office for enforcement.

Also Friday:

• The board gave preliminary approval to bills barring the declawing of cats and designating city parks as child care facilities so they’re exempt from a state law allowing the carrying of guns without training.

• A bill was introduced to bar city agencies from asking job applicants for their salary history and relying on that information to make hiring and pay decisions. The sponsor, Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, said that’s aimed at reducing the instances of pay inequities for women, especially women of color.

Earlier this year St. Louis County Executive Sam Page issued an executive order along similar lines for county government.

• A bill was introduced to set up a new municipal ordinance violation barring youths younger than 18 from possessing a handgun. Sponsor Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, said this is patterned after a similar federal law.

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