On Jan. 27, I introduced a motion to rescind The Fair Chance Act, also known as “ban the box,” but it died for lack of a second.
I have opposed ban the box from the beginning because it had parts to it that were patently unfair to private business. This law says you may not ask, on a job application, whether the applicant has a criminal record. It also says you may not ask, during the interview, if the applicant has a criminal record. It goes further and does not allow the business owner to check for a criminal background as he debates, internally, who to hire. The owner is only allowed to check for a criminal record after a job offer has been made.
Businesses are not allowed to use what they find in the criminal background to retract the offer of employment. They can only withdraw it if they can come up with a legitimate business reason to do so. We are directly interfering in private business. The owner may have passed over someone well suited for the job who has since accepted other employment. What a costly procedure this will become for our businesses, in both time and money.
Many council members claim they want to build the tax base by bringing in new jobs. If your business is looking to relocate in the Cedar Valley, would you choose the community that makes it difficult for you to know exactly who you are hiring? Would you take that risk? If things go badly for you because you hire the wrong person and someone gets hurt, you could be sued.
In fact, Waterloo is being sued over this matter by the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and the Iowa Legislature is moving to make changes to the state code that are directly aimed at the ordinance we passed here in Waterloo.
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Even though the City Council passed ban the box and is preparing to implement it this summer, I thought it would be a good time to pause and wait to see what the amendment to strengthen wording in the state code actually is so we don’t spend money unnecessarily. I figured we could save some money on a lawsuit by being patient.
Your City Council should be just as reluctant to spend money on lawsuits as you are. How could pausing this thing hurt? I never got to make that argument because they refused to second my motion. Even a discussion of saving money wasn’t allowed.
Cities are magnets for lawsuits. In this case, even when we were warned businesses would sue, we went ahead with the ordinance. Even when our lawyers flagged a state code that appeared to conflict with our proposed ordinance, we went ahead with it. We nearly sent out engraved invitations for someone to sue us, and they did.
This is a waste of your money, which you work hard for. I think councils should treat potential lawsuits as though each council member might have to pay the bill. It would certainly make us all more careful.
What can you do? First, pay attention to what is going on in town. Second, put your council person’s phone number on your refrigerator and call them each and every time you think their spending doesn’t match real needs. It is time to keep us all accountable.
If you would like us to pause ban the box, let us know. It is time to stand up for private business in Waterloo!
Margaret Klein is on the Waterloo City Council, representing Ward 1.