Baton Rouge to take up ‘ban the box’ proposal on Tuesday after several other cities institute policy

    The Metro Council will hold a public hearing and vote Tuesday whether to follow other cities like New Orleans and New York and remove the box on city-parish job applications that asks about an applicant’s criminal history.

    Outgoing Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle has wanted to bring the item up to the council for about a year, but she kept putting it off to focus on other items like the body-camera issue in Baton Rouge. But with her term on the council nearing its end after voters elected her Oct. 24 to replace the late Alfred Williams as state representative in House District 61, she decided it was time to pull the proverbial trigger.

    “We’re sending people to jail and they’re getting skill sets,” Marcelle says. “Why are we doing that if they can’t use that skill set when they get out?”

    The Fair Chance in Hiring Policy would remove the question on job applications related to criminal history. The answer to that question is usually a good indicator of whether the application is thrown in the garbage or moved on to the next round of consideration. The city-parish would still perform background checks on potential applicants.

    Certain departments would be excluded from the policy for security and funding-related reasons, the city-parish says.

    Marcelle says she has spoken to a few council members and several departments within the city-parish and has received no push back. The response has been quite the opposite.

    “I’ve gotten a lot of people calling me in support of it,” she says.

    One of her supporters is Councilman Ryan Heck, who is a co-sponsor of the item and says this will help spur economic development by getting people back into the workforce.

    “We’ve got to get folks into the workforce. If someone has committed a misdemeanor and paid their debt to society, that debt is paid,” Heck says. “We’ve got to get these folks in the economy and supporting their families.”

    Heck says while he vehemently opposes the government trying to force the change on private businesses, he says he hopes some will voluntarily make the change. Heck owns a concrete business and says he has hired three men with criminal histories, calling them some of his best workers.

    “I gave them an opportunity and they are excelling for me and appreciate that opportunity and I would do anything for them,” Heck says.

    Councilman John Delgado, on the other hand, is against the item, saying the onus should be on the applicant to disclose their history before wasting their time and the time of a human resources employee in an interview for a position that a convicted criminal would have no business holding.

    “The city-parish should not be a back-to-work program for convicted criminals,” Delgado says.

    Councilwomen Chauna Banks-Daniel and Tara Wicker say they support the “ban the box” proposal. Councilmen Trae Welch and Joel Boe both say they want to learn more about the proposal before deciding how they will vote.

    The Metro Council will take up the issue when it meets at 4 p.m. Nov. 10 on the third floor of the Governmental Building, 222 St. Louis St. The full agenda has not been finalized yet.

    —Ryan Broussard

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