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Monroe County considers 'Ban the Box' bill

A stock image of a job application form.
Phasin Sudjai/rukxstockphoto
Adobe Stock
A stock image of a job application form.

Monroe County would be prohibited from asking people seeking a job with county government whether they have been convicted of a crime on their application under a bill going before the County Legislature.

Sabrina LaMar, the president of the Legislature, informed legislators Monday that she would introduce the legislation during a scheduled meeting of the body on Tuesday.

“This reform to the county’s hiring policy is long overdue,” LaMar wrote.

Legislators are not expected to debate the merits of the bill during their meeting, but rather set a public hearing on the proposed law for when they are scheduled to convene next month, on July 11. They may vote on the bill following the hearing that day.

Insofar as debate goes, though, there is not likely to be much of any.

More than half of all states and roughly 150 cities and counties have some version of so-called “ban the box” laws on the books, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The city of Rochester is among those municipalities that have enacted such legislation.

The laws take their name from a movement to “ban the box” on job applications that ask whether a candidate has a criminal history. The idea is not to eliminate inquiring about criminal history from the hiring process, but to delay considering that information until later in the process.

Typically, that involves employers putting off a background check until after a job interview has been conducted.

The bill before the Legislature would go further, by barring the county from completing a background check until after a conditional offer of employment has been made. The legislation makes exceptions for positions in law enforcement, for which the law requires a background check prior to extending an offer.

Banning the box was a recommendation of the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE) report that was published in 2021.

The RASE commission was convened amid the social and racial justice demonstrations of 2020 and tasked with developing recommendation to address inequity across Monroe County.

“Having stable employment is essential to reintegrating those who have been involved with the justice system back into society,” the report read. “However, these individuals often report believing that they are automatically excluded from most jobs (including Civil Service), or that employers will not even consider them, based on a past criminal record.”

In championing the bill to legislators, LaMar, a Democrat who allies with Republicans, cited studies that show that people with criminal histories who are unemployed were more than twice as likely to commit another crime than those who were gainfully employed.

“Hiring people with criminal records facilitates public safety by reducing recidivism rates,” LaMar wrote.

David Andreatta is investigations editor. He joined the WXXI family in 2019 after 11 years with the Democrat and Chronicle, where he was a news columnist and investigative reporter known for covering a range of topics, from the deadly serious to the cheeky.