Council panel votes to weaken ‘ban the box’ ordinance

An Indianapolis City-County Council Committee on Monday night voted unanimously—though with reluctance—to weaken the city's so-called "ban the box” ordinance, which prohibits city vendors from asking about their job applicants’ prior criminal history.

Members of the Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee said they felt forced to approve a new measure as the result of a new state law, which preempts Indiana municipalities’ authority to put in place such regulations. The City-County Council passed the city's “ban the box” law in 2014.

“I’ll spare everyone the 'why does the state keep telling us what we have to do?’ rant,” said Republican Councilman Jeff Miller. “I’m tired of it. … It’s insane for me that this has been taken away. We’ve got to help people who have simply made a mistake and have paid their time to get a job again.”

The state law, Senate Enrolled Act 312, restricts cities from prohibiting employers or vendors, "from obtaining or using criminal history information during the hiring process to the extent allowed by federal or state law, rules, or regulations."

The city’s amended policy, which still needs to be approved by the full council, would still restrict city and county agencies from inquiring about a job applicant’s prior criminal history—but vendors would now be able to.

However, city agencies would still be able to use vendors’ policies for employing applicants with prior criminal histories as part of their criteria to be considered when awarding contracts and economic incentives.

Council Vice President Zach Adamson pointed out that Gov. Eric Holcomb recently signed an executive order banning the box on state job applications, which he said was “ironic."

Democratic Councilman Vop Osili, who originally brought the proposal to the council three years ago, said he “continued to urge all parties to do what they can” to ensure a “level playing field for as many of our applicants as we possibly can.”

“We want as much accessibility of opportunity for folks in our county and in our city to be successful, to not be harmed by actions taken in the past, mistakes made in the past,” Osili said.

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