Oregon Becomes the Latest State to "Ban the Box"

June 13th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Oregon lawmakers approved legislation Thursday that would ban employers from asking about an applicant's criminal record, significantly bettering ex-convicts' chances of securing work after serving time.

Senate legislators, in a 21-8 vote, passed an amended version of a bill put forward by labor activists earlier in the legislative session that would have restricted an employer's ability to conduct background checks until a formal job offer is issued. The House amended the bill to bar applicants from suing employers for violating the law, while freeing up employers to inquire when criminal history is required by law. Ultimately, the new proposal clarifies that a criminal conviction is not a valid reason to not hire someone, the Oregonian reports. It now heads to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's desk, after an expected re-approval by the House. 

"We believe we have found that balance," Portland Democratic Sen. Michael Dembrow said in the chamber Thursday. "The employer is free to make the decision ... the key, colleagues, is that the applicant will have the opportunity to explain their story."

The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, was a win for labor organizers, nonprofit representatives, and ex-cons, and general supporters of a national movement to "ban the box" from job applications. The national campaign to "ban the box," started by ex-convicts and their families, has seen a number of recent successes nationwide. On Wednesday, the New York City council passed a measure barring employers from rescinding a job offer based on a criminal conviction before an explanation, and an interactive discussion, Huffington Post repots. The NYC bill had support from "Orange Is the New Black" author Piper Kerman. 

Also on Wednesday, Ohio enacted a ban the box legislation mandating past convictions only be listed on state civil service job applications. 

"We believe [the criminal history] question, appearing on many applications for employment, housing, public benefits ... and the subsequent practice of no longer considering applicants with arrest and conviction record[s], is the basis for widespread systemic discrimination against people who have been in prison or who have past convictions of any kind," Manuel La Fontaine of All of Us or None, a project of the Legal Services for Prisoners with Children that coined the "Ban the Box" term, told ATTN:.

Pending House re-approval and a signature from Gov. Brown, Oregon would become the 18th state to enact a form of ban the box legislation. 

"As Oregonians, we believe that anyone who makes a mistake and learns from it deserves a second chance," Tom Chamberlain, president of Oregon AFL-CIO, said in a release. "This bill helps make it possible for thousands of people who have paid their debts to society to one day get a job and pull their lives and their families back together." 

Oregon AFL-CIO helped co-author the original bill with the Urban League of Portland, which says they're planning to introduce mirror legislation of the original version to the Portland City Council.