Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that bans government employers from asking job applicants about their criminal record until later in the hiring process, effectively extending the state's policy to some 6,000-plus local and regional government agencies in California.
Assembly Bill 218, by Sacramento Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, requires public employers determine a job applicant's minimum qualifications before they ask about the person's conviction history.
Practically speaking, that means removing the check-box questions common on many applications that ask, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?"
Once the law takes effect on July 1, 2014, employers will have to wait later in the hiring process to inquire about a job candidate's criminal past. Applications and initial interviews for jobs that by law require a conviction background check, such as police officers, are exempt. The state, for example, includes the question on a supplemental application form given for California Highway Patrol officer candidates.
A least a half-dozen states have similar laws and local governments in 23 states de-emphasize criminal background checks, according to the National Employment Law Project, which favored the measure. In California, Alameda and Santa Clara counties, as well as Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have all removed the question from initial job applications.
California's law lends momentum to a growing "ban the box" movement by unions and civil rights groups already energized by recent federal warnings that using criminal background checks to screen initial applications is discriminatory.
The Obama administration has sued companies over their criminal-conviction screening policies, arguing that they discriminate against ethnic groups disproportionately convicted of crimes, such as Latinos and African Americans.
Local governments and coalitions, including the California State Association of Counties and the California District Attorneys Association, opposed Dickinson's measure, fearing it would undercut security, usurp local authority and erode public trust.
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PHOTO: People wait to talk with PG&E representatives during a Sacramento job fair in 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Renée C. Byer