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The St. Paul City Council went on record Wednesday in support of legislative efforts to prevent private employers from asking questions up front about whether a job applicant has ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.
The council voted 6 to 1 to update the city’s legislative agenda to include support for four bills that would extend the state’s policy on screening questions that public employers may ask to private employers as well.
Under that policy, signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2009, public employers can’t ask whether an applicant has any kind of criminal history or run-in with the law until the field of applicants is narrowed and they’ve been chosen for job interviews.
St. Paul has followed the same policy for city hiring since 2006, under an executive order issued by Mayor Chris Coleman.
Council Member Melvin Carter III, who sponsored the resolution, said that he plans to bring forward soon another resolution that will broaden the city’s policy to include contractors and vendors doing business with the city.
Campaigns to drop questions related to crime from job applications are referred to as “Ban the Box” initiatives, because of the box on applications that must be checked by those with records.
Supporters believe that if that box is removed, ex-offenders with the right qualifications will have a better chance to get a job interview.
Carter told council members that the legislation doesn’t prohibit background checks at later points in the application process, but only makes it illegal to raise the question of criminality at the outset.
Council Member Dan Bostrom suggested, however, that it may help ex-offenders guilty of serious crimes skirt their past, and that it may also prompt national and international companies uncomfortable with the regulations to handle applicants elsewhere.
“I don’t blame them for not wanting to be controlled by something like this,” said Bostrom, who was the lone dissenting vote.