The Minnesota House gave overwhelming approval to a bill that would prevent private employers from inquiring about applicants’ troubles with the law until an interview or a conditional job offer has been made.

The bill, called “Ban the Box” because it eliminates a criminal-history box on most private job applications, now goes to Gov. Mark Dayton, who supports it.

‘Second chance’ for many

“This is really the second chance for a lot of the men and women that have made a mistake,” said the sponsor, Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul. “One of the things we love to see is people who made mistakes get a chance and do well. This does that, with conditions.”

The bill extends the “ban-the-box” policy that exists for public employers to private employers. It exempts those employers who are prohibited from hiring people with criminal records, such as child-care agencies and services that work with vulnerable adults.

Mahoney said the bill does not prohibit private employers from eventually conducting background checks and fully investigating the criminal past of potential employees. It is designed to get applicants past the initial application stage, so that if they qualify for the job, they get a chance to explain themselves.

With large percentages of the population running afoul of the law — estimates run as high as 25 percent — Mahoney said too many people trying to rebuild their lives find their applications “deleted or thrown in the wastebasket” based on the criminal-history “box.”

“If we’re going to successfully allow people to come back into society, we need to allow them the ability to talk to the human rights person and explain, ‘Sir, I’m 45 years old, I made a mistake when I was 20. I am not that person any longer,’ ” Mahoney said.

Republicans praise bill

The bill drew praise from several GOP members.

“My faith tradition informs me that people deserve second chances,” said Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester. He said he is a longtime supporter of prison fellowship ministries and believes that men and women coming out of prison are less likely to commit another crime if they have hopes of employment.

“So many of these people have tremendous qualities,” added Rep. Ernie Leidiger, R-Mayer.

Mahoney said employers will not be liable for civil suits, and complaints will be handled through the state human rights department.

One opponent of the bill, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the bill would cause “human rights police to go out and inspect private businesses in Minnesota.” He objected to imposing the requirement on private employers and fining those who violate it.

The bill sailed through the House on a 107-26 vote. It passed the Senate on a 44-16 vote last month.