- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2015

Virginia has joined a growing number of states that no longer include questions about criminal history on standard state job applications.

After “ban the box” legislation, so named for the box that applicants are asked to check if they have been convicted of a crime, failed to pass in the Virginia legislature this year, Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order to change the practice.

The order, signed Friday by the Democratic governor, notes that the state will no longer base hiring decisions on an applicant’s criminal history “unless demonstrably job-related and consistent with business necessity, or state or federal law prohibits hiring an individual with certain convictions for a particular position.”

Jobs with the state police, for instance, would still require criminal background checks as a condition of employment.

Virginia follows 14 states, including Maryland, as well as the District in adopting ban the box policies for government employment. Six states — Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — have also removed criminal history questions on job applications for private employers, according to the National Employment Law Center.

“In a new Virginia economy, people who make mistakes and pay the price should be welcomed back into society and given the opportunity to succeed,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “This Executive Order will remove unnecessary obstacles to economic success for Virginians who deserve a second chance.”

Under the order, criminal background checks could only be conducted after an applicant is being considered for a specific position, has been found to be otherwise eligible for the position, and has signed a waiver authorizing the check.

For positions categorized as “sensitive,” such as state troopers, child care workers, and corrections officers, background checks would still be required once an applicant gets to the interview or job offer stage, according to Mr. McAuliffe’s spokesman Brian Coy.

Failure to consent to a background check could still lead to rejection of an applicant, according to the order.

The ban the box order drew praise from both Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“This is a responsible approach that keeps initial background checks for sensitive jobs in state government while ensuring that a youthful mistake or wrong decision doesn’t close the doors of opportunity for a lifetime,” Mr. Herring said.
The Virginia state Senate passed ban the box legislation this year but the measure died in the House of Delegates.

More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison nationwide every year, according to the Department of Justice.

The ACLU noted that helping ex-offenders obtain employment after being released from prison can help to decrease the rate of recidivism.

“Today’s action by the Governor better ensures that former offenders are judged on their merit, not their mistakes,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of Virginia’s ACLU.

Ms. Gastañaga said she hopes other cities and private companies will follow the the state government’s example.

At least 13 Virginia cities have also already adopted ban the box policies, including Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax, according to the National Employment Law Center.

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