Council committee approves “ban the box” ordinance

A joint city council committee on Wednesday approved the “ban the box” ordinance, sending it to the full council.

It would ban questions on city applications that ask if a person has been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor.

Seven states and 45 cities or counties have already passed such laws, officials said, but this may be the first in Missouri. The finance and public safety committees approved it after hearing testimony from many supporters.

Among them was former municipal judge Deborah Neal. In 2005, she pleaded guilty to mail fraud related to loans solicited from lawyers and was sentenced to 28 months.

Neal, who now works for a second chance program, said she had experienced what happens after she checked that box on job applications.

“I could see the rejection, it was visible,” she said. “I know what it is like to be condemned.”

Lora McDonald, executive director of More2, said employers look at that box and write off people.

“We’re not asking you to put Charles Manson in shackles in the city manager’s office,” she said. “It’s about that guy you know with a DUI that’s 10 years old.”

Councilman Jermaine Reed, sponsor of the measure, said the box feeds hopelessness among those who have paid for crimes.

“People are more than their criminal record,” he said.

Others argued that the change increases public safety by making it possible for people to get jobs and not force them back to crime.

Officials said the ordinance is largely a symbolic gesture meant to send a message to private business. The city already hires people with criminal records. It will also continue to do a background check on people, but that comes late in the hiring process.

Jason Pryor, past president of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association, said restaurant and bar owners will continue to use boxes because ‘that box helps us” under current city law.

Anyone who touches or works with liquor in the city – waiters, bartenders and others – must have a clean record. They have to pay $41.50 for a background check and even if they pass, they have to do it again every three years, Pryor said.

That is an issue for another time, councilmembers said.


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