- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A bipartisan push to prevent state employers from asking job applicants about criminal histories until after granting interviews received support in the legislature Wednesday.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 9-1 to advance the “ban the box” measure to the full House for debate.

Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, said the bill is part of a national movement to employ former inmates. Citing statistics from the National Employment Law Project, Marcelle said 27 states have cities or counties that have adopted the hiring practice.

The proposal applies to the state’s politically appointed unclassified employees and not rank-and-file classified state workers subject to Louisiana’s civil service system. As of April 15, the state employed 39,913 classified employees and 31,759 unclassified.

Byron P. Decoteau, Louisiana civil service director, said that if Marcelle’s bill becomes law, civil services would most likely develop and vote on similar guidelines for hiring classified employees.

Marcelle’s proposal would not apply to positions in law enforcement, corrections or other areas that legally require criminal background checks.

Lawmakers questioned whether the proposal would expose the state to liability and lead to future restrictions on private businesses. Supporters said it merely promotes in-person conversations and would not prevent interviewers from asking about convictions and arrests or performing background checks.

“I don’t need the government to tell me when and how to be fair to people,” said Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, as he questioned whether the proposal would remain what Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, called “a baby step.”

Smith proposed a separate measure that would provide registration and voting rights to convicted felons on parole or probation. The committee panel passed the proposal without objection, and it, too, moves to the full House for debate.

Smith said she is also considering proposing a “Ban the Box for State Contracts Act,” which would prohibit state contractors from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on a job application form. She told Schroder that she has not decided if she will bring the bill forward for consideration by the House appropriations committee.

Dawn Starns, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, opposed Marcelle’s bill, referring to it as “a slippery slope” that could eventually extend restrictions to small private businesses. Starns said such businesses could not afford to leave a position open while interviewing candidates who later turned out to be unqualified.

Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro, urged the panel to focus on what the measure currently proposes. She said the bill is “not a partisan thing, it’s not a political thing; it’s a human thing and a moral thing.”

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Online:

House Bill 266, 349 and 598 : www.legis.la.gov

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