Most private employers in Illinois would have to evaluate a job applicant's skills before asking about criminal history under legislation that advanced to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk Thursday.
Under the "Job Opportunities for Qualified Applicants Act," employers or employment agencies in the state with 15 or more employees would be allowed to ask job applicants about criminal history and conduct a background check, but not until later in the interviewing process. The legislation, which Quinn has said he intends to sign, would essentially "ban the box" on private sector job applications that inquires about criminal history.
The bill, HB 5701, passed in the Senate last week by a 40-12 vote. It had already passed through the House in late April by a 63-53 vote, but it was sent back to the lower chamber for approval of changes made to the bill in the Senate.
The House on Thursday signed off on those Senate amendments, which exempt jobs with construction contractors and "employers employing individuals under the Emergency Medical Systems (EMS) Act and the Private Detective, Private Alarm, Private Security, Fingerprint Vendor and Locksmith Act." The Senate also tweaked the bill so that it does not apply to "employers employing licensees under the Emergency Medical Systems (EMS) Act."
Positions involving fidelity bonding or jobs where employers have to disqualify applicants with certain criminal convictions due to federal or state law are also exempt.
The legislation — which would make Illinois the fifth U.S. state to expand "ban-the-box" policies to private employers — is set to take effect January 1, 2015, if signed by the governor. Illinois already prohibits state agencies from asking about criminal history on initial government job applications as part of an executive order Quinn signed back in October.
The Chicago-based Workers Center for Racial Justice has been one of the groups tirelessly pushing for state legislation to pull criminal background questions from both state government and private sector job applications. The center sent out this note via email to its supporters after the House approved the bill on Thursday:
After a multiyear effort Ban the Box legislation finally passed out of the Illinois General Assembly. Once Governor Quinn signs this bill into law, it will be the most progressive Ban the Box legislation in the country. WCRJ leaders, along with our allies like the Shriver Center on Poverty Law have spent the last several months meeting with legislators in district and the capitol urging them support this bill. Also, over the past few months members of our Street Action Team and other volunteers had conversations with nearly 10,000 voters throughout the state to build more public support on this issue. This is a tremendous victory for WCRJ, our leaders, supporters, allies, and everyone in the state that supports ending discrimination against the formerly incarcerated.
However this is just the beginning. While one barrier has been removed for formerly incarcerated Black workers, many still exist. Businesses still need to be incentivized to hire formerly incarcerated Black workers. Many in the Black community are still being criminalized at a disproportionate rate. And the state of Illinois is still spending billions of dollars to incarcerate nearly 50,000 people per year, a majority of whom are Black and Brown.
In the upcoming months, the Workers Center For Racial Justice will begin to work on the following set of initiatives that we believe will help reduce the number of people incarcerated in Illinois prisons and jails by half over the next three years, and reduce the money the state spends on incarceration and invests that money in communities most impacted by the criminal injustice system.
- De-criminalize drug possession – Work to eliminate the arrests, convictions and jail time for all people caught possessing small amounts of drugs.
- Expand the number of offenses that can be expunged to include every crime – If a person serves their time and takes steps to fully rehabilitate themselves, they deserve a clean slate.
- Release all nonviolent offenders from jails and prisons – Illinois spends over $1.5 billion a year to lock people up - this money can be better used to fund education and job opportunities for low income and communities of color.
- Create Job Vouchers for formerly incarcerated people – We want to create a tax credit program for businesses that hire formerly incarcerated workers, and have the tax credit be in the form of a voucher that's tied to the individual instead of the business