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Seattle wants businesses to 'ban the box' for ex-cons

"Ban the box" is a nationwide effort to give ex-cons an equal footing when it comes to getting a job. On job applications, businesses, private or public, wouldn't be allowed to have a box that prospective employees would check if they have a criminal history. (AP Photo/File)

Should private businesses be told by the City of Seattle that they can't consider a potential hire's criminal background during the application process? The city council is considering it.

It's called "ban the box." It's a nationwide effort to give ex-cons an equal footing when it comes to getting a job.

The City of Seattle has had it for public jobs since 2009, but the city council is now thinking about expanding the program to cover all businesses in the city.

It would require businesses to get rid of the box on job applications that asks if a potential hire has ever been convicted of a crime. Some on the city council don't think it's fair that some applicants are simply tossed into the discard pile just because they have a criminal history.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who is also running for mayor, believes that criminal history box prevents qualified applicants from getting work and that leads to more crime. He believes banning that box will lead to a safer community because people with jobs tend to commit less crime.

Eight states have adopted similar rules for their public hires. Fifty cities or counties have too. Some cities like Boston, Detroit and Philadelphia have extended the program to cover private businesses.

Companies would still be able to run background checks and ask about the criminal histories of potential hires once they've gotten beyond the application process, and they've moved into interviews.

The rule wouldn't apply to jobs that have direct contact with kids, the elderly or the disabled. It also wouldn't apply to law enforcement jobs.

Companies that don't comply could be fined up to $1,000.

The proposal has a hearing Wednesday afternoon in the Public Safety and Civil Rights Committee. It could go to a vote of the full council as soon as Monday.

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Listen to Dori Monson every weekday at 12noon on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. Seattle's News, Seattle's Talk.

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