Lawmakers Look to Bring More Former Felons to Federal Ranks

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to make it easier for applicants with criminal records to receive a federal job.

The Fair Chance Act would aim to boost formerly incarcerated individuals’ ability to receive federal employment by restricting agencies and contractors from asking about applicants’ criminal history until a conditional job offer has been made. The measure seeks to follow in the footsteps of many states and cities that have “banned the box,” referring to a box on job applications requiring individuals to indicate up front if they have past felonies on their records.

“Empowering people with records to become productive members of society instead of repeat offenders is not only fiscally sound, it’s the morally responsible thing to do,” said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who sponsored the measure in the upper chamber. “The Fair Chance Act seeks to dismantle this unfair barrier in federal hiring to ensure these Americans are given a second chance and a fairer shot at making a better life for themselves.”

The proposal has support across the political spectrum.

“Unfortunately, current practice ensures that the 18-year-old who makes a mistake will not only pay for his crime through the justice system,” said Rep Darrell Issa, R-Calif., “but will continue to be punished for the rest of his life, as he or she is disqualified out-of-hand from consideration for federal employment opportunities, even when qualified for the position.”

Other supporters ranged from Tea Party-aligned Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Tim Scott, R-S.C., to Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to longtime federal employee advocate Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who introduced the bill in the House. They said the measure would help reduce recidivism, noting the importance of job opportunities in that process. All told, 13 lawmakers in the House and Senate have signed on to support the bill.

The measure would ban all three branches of government and federal contractors from requesting criminal history information until the conditional offer stage. Positions related to law enforcement and national security, jobs that require access to classified information and posts statutorily required to employ individuals with clean records would be exempt from the ban.

Booker, Cummings and dozens of other lawmakers wrote to President Obama earlier this year to ask him to institute the ban on prescreening for criminal records with federal agencies and contractors.

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