The toughest question on a job application can be pretty short. Have you ever been convicted of a felony? For job seekers with criminal records, checking that box can make all the difference in landing an interview with a prospective employer. Now, lawmakers are reviving a years-long effort to “ban the box” by prohibiting employers from asking about criminal convictions on an initial job application. Even as crime has become a flash point between Republicans and Democrats, Senate Bill 96 is one idea that has rallied bipartisan support.
A national conversation about criminal justice reform and employing convicted criminals is making its way back to New Mexico. After an unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation that would prohibit asking applicants about past criminal convictions, Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, brought the discussion to an interim legislative committee on Tuesday. O’Neill and Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, fielded questions and concerns from the committee. Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, said he was concerned about the hiring of teachers and faculty who might be working with children. He cited the recent Albuquerque Public School scandal involving a former deputy superintendent.
Senator Tom Udall was one of 27 U.S. Senators, all members of the Democratic caucus, who signed onto a letter asking President Barack Obama to stop federal agencies and federal contractors from asking about felony convictions on job applications. The effort known as “ban the box” is designed to let those with criminal records get job interviews and perhaps gain employment. During the job interview, supporters of the proposal say, employers would be able to ask the prospective employee about their criminal record. “People who have served their time deserve a fair shot at rebuilding their lives — and one of the first steps to ending recidivism and getting back on your feet is holding down a job,” Udall said in a statement to New Mexico Political Report. “This is about promoting fair hiring practices that help ensure people with a record are not discriminated against as they attempt to make a positive contribution to their families and communities.”