Looking back over the 2013 Legislative session, it looks like I’ll be taking the “sandwich approach.”
First, I’d like to lay on some genuine thanks. Thank you for supporting full-day kindergarten and early-childhood education scholarships. Thank you for providing in-state tuition to undocumented Minnesota students dreaming of citizenship and contributing to our community.
Thanks for giving me a reason to dye my shoes, as friends in same-sex relationships will be allowed to marry.
Now, a thick slice of bummer, for a lack of courage to create tighter gun-control laws, for a refusal to prioritize, despite Gov. Dayton’s written promise in 2012, equally shared parenting after divorce, and for the fact that many of our low-income children still will be turned away from hot school lunches enjoyed by their peers.
Advocates admirably fighting for these bills will be back, and I’ll be rooting for them.
Finishing up, one more piece of gratitude, for Ban the Box.
Ban the Box requires employers to remove the question, and the check box, that asks potential employees about their criminal records. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, employers will be able to ask about criminal histories only after selecting applicants for interviews.
Clearly, our legislators realized how important it is to give people a foot in the door with an opportunity for face-to-face contact. This can mean the difference between securing a job that supports one’s family or being forced back into a life of isolation and recidivism.
Ban the Box will make our communities safer, not more dangerous. And it had strong bipartisan support.
Gov. Pawlenty signed legislation in 2009 to make Minnesota one of the first states to require public employers to wait until applicants are chosen for an interview to ask them about criminal histories.
This new law makes Minnesota the third state to expand the idea to private employers.
One of the most compelling reasons to support it is that the number of Minnesotans with some type of criminal records is now about one in five, according to the Council on Crime and Justice. Many Minnesotans are turned away from jobs they’re well skilled to take due to criminal records that may be outdated, unrelated or inaccurate.
The more compelling reason to support Ban the Box is that it affirms our belief in second chances.
“I know there are guys who don’t want to change,” said Oscar Haynes, 45, of Columbia Heights.
Haynes is not one of those guys. But after serving more than five years in prison on burglary and drug-related offenses, the married father of five grown children couldn’t get anyone to open the door wide enough for redemption to walk in.
“I made some bad choices in my life,” Haynes said. “But at 44, I wanted a new life. I didn’t want to leave a criminal legacy for my children.
“So many of us do want jobs, and they shut the door in our face, and we go back to the only thing we know how to do to support our family and that’s crime. Given an opportunity to work, we wouldn’t go back to that.”
So that’s what he finally told a potential supervisor in a prized face-to-face interview. “You will not be disappointed,” he added.
That supervisor hired him for a Minneapolis city job one year ago as a seasonal worker. They liked him so much they asked him to stay on. Now he has his own truck, cellphone and route.
Erick Washington, 50, shares a similar story. Given a 27-month sentence for burglary four years ago, Washington plunged into computer and healthy living classes in prison and came out a better man seeking work.
“I used to walk into jobs so bold,” said Washington, of Minneapolis, also the married father of five. The felony, “makes you a little bit shaky, a lot bit shaky. A lot of times, people [with felonies] don’t even fill out applications.”
Ban the Box, he said, “is an opportunity to go in there and present yourself, sell yourself.”
“I was stupid,” he told a potential employer as they chatted comfortably and casually. “I’m not that now. Boom. Now I have a decent job as a union truck driver.”