Idaho Senate generic 1-29-20

The Idaho Senate 

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The Senate has voted 21-13 in favor of SB 1318, the Fair Chance Employment Act sponsored by Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, sending it to the House. The “ban the box” legislation, like laws already enacted in 24 states and by Congress for federal hiring and contracting, asks employers to wait to ask about criminal backgrounds until after the job posting and application process, so that those with records have a chance to present their qualifications. “This legislation is crafted to remove barriers,” Buckner-Webb told the Senate. “This is an Idaho bill with Idaho values in mind. We believe in giving people a fair chance.”

There was much debate in the Senate. Among those speaking out in favor of the bill was Senate Judiciary Chairman Todd Lakey, R-Nampa, who praised Buckner-Webb for how she crafted the bill. “This gives people an opportunity to get their foot in the door. … If at the end of the day, the employer says, ‘I’m sorry, I just can’t accept this criminal conviction,’ they have the opportunity to do that,” he said.

“This will help with our prison population,” Lakey said, “but more importantly it will help people be a contributing member of society once they’re out instead of being a cost and a detriment.”

Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said a past incarceration, even long after the sentence was served, can function as a “scarlet letter.” “To me, this is about the image of someone coming in asking for a job, and on the very front of the application is a box where they put a scarlet letter, where they take off their nice suit and put on their jail clothes,” he said. “I think this is a fair way to help people and try and keep them from going back into a prison system that’s not working.”

Among those speaking against the bill was Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, who said, “The role of government is not to tell employers what or what not to do unless public safety is involved, in my opinion.”

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said, “We have to give these folks a chance. Doesn’t mean they have to be hired, but we have to give them a chance.”

In her closing debate, Buckner-Webb said, “I just want to be clear that employers do not give up their ability to make hiring decisions that are best for them or their business.” The bill now moves to the House side, where it would need approval from a committee, passage in the full House and the governor’s signature to become law.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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