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Originally published June 5, 2013 at 8:37 PM | Page modified June 7, 2013 at 6:30 AM

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Crime-check hiring bill clears City Council panel

A Seattle City Council committee approved a bill that would prohibit private employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal history until after an initial screening.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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A Seattle City Council committee approved a bill Wednesday that would prohibit businesses from asking a job applicant about criminal history until after an initial screening.

Members of the Public Safety Committee voted 5-0, with one abstention, to send the bill to the full council Monday.

The committee also voted down several amendments supported by the business community that Chairman Bruce Harrell said would render the protections of the bill “meaningless.”

“My intent here was that there be some nexus between the criminal history and the job. It does put a higher burden on the employer. That’s good policy,” Harrell said.

The committee heard testimony from dozens of people, many of them ex-convicts who described how hard it had been to find employment after they had served their time and were trying to restart their lives.

“When I got out of prison, and put in a job application, I was honest about my incarceration, but I found all doors closed,” said Nick Maxwell. “If a person has paid his debt to society, he should have an opportunity for a job and to feed his family. People shouldn’t have to serve a life sentence for their past.”

The bill prohibits the use of a checkoff box on job applications that asks if the job seeker has ever been convicted of a crime.

Employers could consider a conviction later in the hiring process and reject an applicant, but only if there is a legitimate business reason to do so.

The bill doesn’t apply to jobs that involve access to vulnerable people, including children, the disabled or elderly. It also doesn’t cover law-enforcement positions.

The city Office of Civil Rights could investigate complaints brought by an applicant turned down for a job solely because of his or her criminal history.

The city could impose fines of as much as $1,000 for a third violation.

Fifty cities and eight states have passed laws limiting what employers — mostly public agencies but also some private businesses — can ask on job applications about convictions.

Business leaders argued the legislation required them to have a crystal ball about an applicant’s future conduct and that it put the city in the position of second-guessing their employment decisions.

While saying the bill had come a long way in the last six months, George Allen, senior vice president for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said it would burden businesses with new regulations and create an adversarial relationship with the city rather than one that was “more collaborative and inviting to employers.”

Allen told committee members before the vote that if the pro-business amendments passed, the chamber “could support neutrality” on Monday’s vote on final passage of the legislation.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @lthompsontimes

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