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Legislator says Iowa law prohibits ‘ban the box’ policies

Legislator says Iowa law prohibits ‘ban the box’ policies

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DES MOINES — A legislator said local governments would be liable for the legal costs associated with challenges if they attempt to prohibit employers from asking about job applicants’ criminal histories.

“I believe in second chances, but that’s not what this bill is about,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Steven Holt, R-Denison, said.

His proposal was in response to Waterloo city officials approving a “fair chance initiative” last year. It prevents the city and many private employers from asking job applicants about criminal history until the end of the hiring process.

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry has sued the city and its lobbyists were at the hearing on House Study Bill 519 Wednesday to say a statewide policy was needed to make hiring practices “predictable for employers.”

Like Holt, they believe employers have the right to know whom they are hiring.

Holt’s legislation is similar to Senate Study Bill 3034. However, rather than banning local “ban the box” policies, Holt’s amendment acknowledges that Waterloo and other cities or counties that adopt such policies are in violation of existing state law. The same law that preempted cities and counties from adopting their own minimum wages applies to hiring practices, Holt said.

The amendment, which became HSB 519, “makes it real ... puts teeth in the law and says ‘we’re not kidding,’” he said.

Most lobbyists at the hearing had not seen Holt’s amendment, so their comments generally were about the concept of “ban the box.”

Lobbyists representing insurance industry clients pointed out federal regulations restrict some people with criminal backgrounds from holding some positions.

Larry Murphy, representing the Iowa Catholic Conference and the Urban County Coalition of Linn, Black Hawk, Dubuque, Johnson and Scott counties, encouraged lawmakers to look at bipartisan proposals introduced last year to prohibit public sector employers from asking about criminal history.

Speaking for the League of Women Voters, Amy Campbell said that employers should look at applicants’ qualifications rather than criminal records.

Matt Chapman, who said he was a felon and 45 years old before gaining his voting rights, called for banning the box because “I believe in second chances.”

But, Holt said, “this is about obeying state law. State law is very clear. The city of Waterloo violated state law. That’s what this is about. This is not a conversation about second chances.”

HSB 519 now goes to the full Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Holt.

Photos: UNI's home win over Missouri State, Jan. 29, 2020

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