Bill filed to ban "Ban the Box" laws

A state lawmaker wants to pass a law to over-rule Austin’s new fair hiring ordinance. The Local law is part of a nationwide effort called Ban the Box.

From the south steps of the State Capitol, Representative Paul Workman announced Tuesday morning his intention to put a ban on any local - ban the box- law.

"The point is, it’s not the role of government to interfere in the affairs of private industry. No matter how well intended,” said the Austin Republican.

HB 577 prohibits any county or city from passing an ordinance that prevents private employers from asking about criminal histories on job applications.

"When cities impose ordinances that restrict the liberties and rights of their citizens, including their private property right, then the state does have a role and needs to get involved to make sure we don’t over step and create a situation where the liberties of our citizens are not affected,” said Rep. Workman.

In March the Austin city council passed a Fair Chance Hiring ordinance which outlaws the use of criminal history check boxes on job applications. Any company doing business in Austin, with 11 or more employees, must comply.

State House members, two years ago, passed their own Ban the Box Bill. Unlike the Austin ordinance, the legislation was written to only apply to state government jobs. It died when the Session ended because it failed to get out of Senate committee.

Mike Rollins, with the Austin Chamber of Commerce, joined in the call Tuesday’s call for state intervention.

"We are in 100% support of this. We do not believe that municipalities should be micro-managing businesses,” said Rollins.

Other business groups voiced concern that a patchwork of local hiring laws across the state would be unmanageable.

"It costs over $4,000 to hire an entry level employee, over $5,000 to hire a manufacturing employee, these cost multiply exponentially when you can’t consider their background or criminal history until after you make an offer. Small businesses are then force to start over increasing their cost per hire,” said Pam Bratton with the Texas Association of Staffing.

Supporters of the Austin ordinance say there are businesses that do back the ban, and Mayor Steve Adler also noted the irony of a Republican controlled legislature essentially getting involved in city business.

"Well you know I'm a firm believer in local control,” said Mayor Adler.

Mayor Adler didn't say that Representative Workman should back off- but in defending the Austin hiring law, he said being different, on the local level, makes the state stronger.

"It’s just the right thing to do, we had some people who had a brush with the law when they were 18 and now they are 40, and it’s still haunting them, and nothing has gone wrong in the meantime, this was a vetted bill and it’s the right thing to do."

While Adler expects positive things from the Fair Chance Hiring law, Representative Workman warned that Ban the Box laws could actually hurt those they’re designed to help. Workman cited a study by the University of Michigan which noted without information about criminal history some employers hired more white people than blacks. The review suggested inaccurate assumptions were made based on the applicant’s race.

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