WATERLOO — The city is sending its “ban the box” ordinance back to the drawing board.
City Council members postponed the final reading of the controversial fair chance initiative until Oct. 7 so a committee can make changes to the language.
Waterloo was poised to become the first city in Iowa to adopt a law preventing city city government and private employers from asking about criminal histories early in the application process.
But Councilwoman Sharon Juon, who was part of a 4-3 majority that approved the second reading last week, said “there are a couple things in the ordinance that do need to be improved or clarified.”
Juon noted the ordinance was unclear whether it applied to businesses with at least 15 employees or the full-time equivalent of 15 employees; had conflicting language relating to employment agencies; and failed to spell out consequences for violations.
Councilmen Jerome Amos Jr. and Ray Feuss, who previously supported the measure, agreed to postpone the final vote because they feared it would otherwise fail.
“I’m hoping I will be part of the committee that sits down and talks about this and tries to get it right with the businesses,” Amos said. “We represent the people and the businesses and we want to make sure that everyone is happy with this ordinance.”
Councilman Pat Morrissey said he was “appalled” to see the ordinance put on hold.
The proposed ordinance would remove criminal background questions from job applications and make hiring managers wait until after a conditional job offer is made before conducting a background check. The job offer can be rescinded if the background check reveals a “legitimate business reason” an individual is not fit for the position.
The ordinance has been hotly debated in recent weeks with supporters noting it was a civil rights issue designed to give people a second chance with opponents arguing it was unfair to business owners and a potential violation of state law.
“I’ve knowingly hired felons and people with other criminal backgrounds,” said Al Manning, owner of a Sub City restaurant. “I guess what I have a problem with is the city compelling businesses to change their hiring practices.”
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Al Hays, of the Iowa Justice Action Network, said giving people a chance to turn their lives around and become productive members of the community would help keep them from returning to crime.
“In reality, in may ways a felony conviction can be a life sentence no matter what the actual crime is,” he said. “It can be a lifelong denial of opportunity to get jobs, to get education, to live in certain places.”
Cary Darrah, president and CEO of Grow Cedar Valley, said the organization wants to be part of the ongoing discussion.
“While we fundamentally support removing the box on the front of the application, our preference would be … this would be much more effective if it’s handled at the state level,” Darrah said.
But Feuss objected to waiting for the Iowa Legislature to act.
“I’m asking that we as the Waterloo City Council take the lead, we are number one on this, that we show the rest of the state what should be taking place (and) not allowing the state to dictate,” Feuss said. “We should be working for our citizens here instead.”
Councilwoman Margaret Klein said she supported removing the criminal history box from job applications but contended businesses should be able to reject job applicants after an interview due to a conviction.
“Sometimes behaviors follow you for the rest of your life,” she said.
Ordinances must be approved during three separate readings to be adopted. If the ordinance that passed two readings is changed, council members would need to start over with the first reading.