California’s “Ban the Box” law takes effect

California’s “Ban the Box” law – removing questions about criminal convictions from state and local government job applications – took effect Tuesday, and supporters say it’ll make the hunt for gainful employment easier for about 7 million Californians.

Ban the BoxA study released Tuesday by the National Employment Law Project shows public employers have updated their job applications to comply with the new law, enacted as AB 218 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.

“When we first introduced the bill nearly two-and-a-half years ago, our goal was to advance a simple but powerful message — that everyone who works hard deserves a second chance to turn their lives around and give back to their communities,” Dickinson said in a news release Tuesday. “We are heartened to see that the state’s public sector employers have embraced fair-chance hiring and that they are now setting an example for the private sector to follow.”

The law requires that state and local agencies determine a job applicant’s minimum qualifications first, and only after that can get and consider information about past criminal convictions. Certain employers – such as law enforcement agencies and school districts – are exempt from the law, as are any job positions subject to a criminal background check by an occupational or licensing law.

The NELP survey found all of California’s 10 largest counties and 10 largest cities – representing about three quarters of the state’s population – have removed the conviction-history question from their job applications and delayed the criminal background check until later in the hiring process.

Of the 10 largest counties, each of which has a population greater than 952,000, only Alameda, Santa Clara, and Riverside counties had a similar policy in place before AB 218 was signed into law. And of the 10 largest cities, each of which has a population of more than 346,000, only Oakland, San Diego, and San Francisco had such policies in place.

About half of the largest counties and cities – including Santa Clara County, Oakland and San Jose – have gone beyond what the new law requires: They delay the criminal-history inquiry until the employer makes a conditional offer of employment, or later. San Francisco has passed a local ordinance extending the policy to private employers, too. And Richmond and Compton extend the policies to private vendors doing business with those cities.

“AB 218 provided us with the mandate to adopt ban-the-box, which we’re proud to embrace, but it’s just a first step of our evolving process to ensure that all our residents share in the promise of economic opportunity,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, who has championed this cause.

The Assembly approved AB 219 on a 48-29 vote in May 2013, and it just barely squeaked through the state Senate on a 21-16 vote in September.

These “fair-chance hiring policies” are now in effect in 12 states plus almost 70 cities and counties across the nation.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    Well, isn’t that special? I’m pleased that my tax dollars will be going to hire convicted felons. I am so gratified and feel so much safer.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    I think BayAreaNewsGroup adopted this policy some time ago. Hence the occasionally weird layout and editing

  • Marga

    I quite agree. Why have convicted felons work for our tax dollars? It’s much more efficient if they are jobless and have to resort to mugging us for money, no need to have the government as an in-between.

  • JohnW

    Removing the questions from the application form just gets you past the initial screening. Assuming they do background checks, a conviction will still jump up and bite you later in the hiring process.

  • disqus_ZyC41QjVC1

    I am amazed that California’s government agencies will now be spending our tax dollars to get convicts through the hiring phase only to be disqualified at the end of the process. Do we have any politicians with common sense?

  • Jim Reilley

    Better yet, let’s just incarcerate the population at $70K/year. Much cheaper than allowing them to work & pay taxes and contribute to the economy.

  • impoundguy

    Great… nothing like an uninformed employer unknowingly hiring a child molester for his child day care center or a assault or burglary suspect for in home elder care…how about this idea…DON’T COMMIT A FELONY and it will be a moot point!!……it’s not like you had NO IDEA of what you were doing…you just didn’t care and now we’re suppose to!!

  • Oni

    After reading every ones response what happen to I’ve done my time so my debt to society is paid? What happened to “The Department Of Rehabilitation”? Unless you’ve walked a mile in some ones shoe’s you should at least give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • Richard Woulfe

    Nice work by Supervisor Gioa and others who sponsored this new state legislation. A lot of former drug users – who have criminal back rounds they picked up in drug using days – are in recovery, have completely turned lives around, and have so much to offer employers – and the community as well.

  • Elwood

    New drinking game:

    Every time a bleeding heart lunatic liberal says “give them the benefit of the doubt” you take a drink.

  • JohnW

    By “bleeding heart lunatic liberal,” I assume you are including the Nebraska legislature, which voted 46-0 in favor of “Ban the Box.” And I guess you are excluding me, since I’m not necessarily on board with the idea. Some of the strongest advocates of prison reform are conservatives. In Texas, they are closing many of the prisons.

  • Oni

    Can’t even see the other side of the tracks.
    Am I my brothers keeper.
    The big picture. If he has a job he won’t be doing crime.
    Just a chance is all they need.

  • Elwood

    ” In Texas, they are closing many of the prisons.”

    And what are they doing with the occupants?

    Executing them?

  • Elwood

    Oni, you need to read some statistics on recidivism and then have a reality check.

  • Oni

    Already have. You need to read about education and drug rehab and how many inmates don’t return after getting the help they need
    learningtoread.com is just one site

  • JohnW

    Don’t know. Maybe deporting them to California. They are on some type of prison and sentencing reform track, something that some conservative think tanks have been advocating. I don’t have answers, but something is wrong when a state spends more on prisons than on higher education.

  • Elwood

    Bleeding heart liberal BS.

  • Elwood

    I have no idea how to account for anything that happens in Nebraska.

  • JohnW

    Methinks everybody is making way too much of this, on both sides of the issue. This just keeps the resume from going into the circular file when it first arrives on the desk of somebody in Personnel. Unless they don’t do background checks and references, nobody with a criminal record is going to get hired without the hiring manager knowing about it. And there may well be many cases where somebody is well-qualified and actually has earned a second chance.