Austin City Council to vote on 'Fair Chance Hiring' on Thursday

Lawnstarter is an Austin small business that's growing like grass...pardon the pun. Using their app, customers will get connected with lawn care services in their area.

"Historically you'd have to call one company for mowing, another company for fertilization, an arborist for tree trimming.  You can get all that through one platform which is Lawnstarter.  We have a mobile app that we give our consumers," said Lawnstarter's Ryan Harmon.

But soon, if the Austin City Council votes in favor of Fair Chance Hiring, businesses like Lawnstarter with 15 employees or more will have to change a few things about the hiring process.

"The core component of this ordinance is that we are asking private employers in Austin that are large to medium-sized businesses to stop asking about criminal history at the very beginning of the process and instead give people a fair chance throughout the hiring process before running a background check if they choose to do so," said District 4 City Council Member Greg Casar.

Lawnstarter's Ryan Harmon says they do need to do background checks on their employees because many of them will be going to people's homes.  But aside from some slightly increased costs, he says this ordinance shouldn't be a problem.

"It will definitely change some of our hiring processes.  It will definitely change kind of the entire vetting out and interview process.  We'll adapt and go with whatever changes are made ultimately," Harmon said.

On Tuesday morning, Council Member Casar was surrounded by city and county leaders that support the plan.
Jacqueline Conn spoke on behalf of Second Chance Democrats, a group of formerly incarcerated people working for social justice.

"This is something that dramatically shifts the narrative.  This is something that means that I get to be considered a human again...legally.  And I've never thought this would happen," Conn said.

Immediately after Casar's press conference, Council Member Don Zimmerman held his own.  He will be voting against the ordinance or encouraging council to at least move the issue to May.

"The taxes here are terrible, the regulatory burden is already very, very high.  And the unintended consequences of these kinds of mandates are we could drive out more small businesses that are struggling to survive," Zimmerman said.

Drew Scheberly with the Austin Chamber of Commerce agrees. He says they need more time to work this out.

"From Dell computer company to a tech company to a pet store, you know to a school. There's a huge diversity of hiring that happens, we just want to be able to wash it through a bunch of scenarios. That's why we asked for the delay," he said.

Council Member Casar says they have been working with the Chamber and they've made several amendments to the ordinance that specifically address the Chamber's concerns.  Casar believes the Chamber is against the core of the ordinance which he won't budge on.
This won't apply to jobs where a Federal, State or local law disqualifies someone based on criminal history.

Council will hear public testimony on the issue Thursday.

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