‘Ban the box’ initiative on felony identifications gathers support ahead of supervisors vote 

San Francisco is on the verge of becoming the next U.S. municipality to prohibit employers and housing providers from asking applicants up front if they were ever arrested or convicted of a felony.

With doors to housing and job opportunities often shut to ex-offenders as soon as they check a box on an application attesting to a checkered past, city officials say they are likely to offend again and fall off the path of reform.

But a growing nationwide movement, known as “ban the box,” is taking aim at what is more commonly being viewed as a practice that impairs public safety and wastes taxpayer dollars. Cities such as Philadelphia; Newark, N.J.; Seattle; and Buffalo, N.Y. have banned the box for private employers. San Francisco has implemented the ban for government jobs and now is on the verge of extending it to the private sector under legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim called the Fair Chance Act.

Discussions began more than a year ago but they seem to have paid off with broad support. Most notably, the Chamber of Commerce supported the ban during Monday’s hearing of the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee.

“This does the right thing for employers and job applicants,” said Jim Lazarus, a representative of the chamber.

Kim stressed the initiative does not reward criminal behavior. “But if you are someone who is trying to reintegrate back into society and needs the basic necessities of a home and a job to do that, this legislation will afford you that opportunity to do so,” she said.

James Tracy, an organizer with the nonprofit Community Housing Partnership, which helps homeless people secure supportive housing, touched on the benefits, saying that just when people are ready to transition and find better-paying jobs, “the doors are being shut.”

The proposed legislation would prohibit a housing provider or a business with 20 or more employees from making an upfront inquiry about the criminal history of an applicant. Such an inquiry would be permitted only after the first interview or after a conditional offer of employment. Additionally, some criminal history would be off-limits, such as arrests that didn’t lead to a conviction, expunged convictions and a conviction older than seven years.

The Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement and the Human Rights Commission would investigate complaints and annually report outcomes. The full board is expected to approve the legislation Feb. 4.

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