Seven States Adopted Fair Chance Policies in 2017

2017 was another year of significant progress for the “ban the box” or “fair chance hiring” movement. For the second consecutive year, seven states adopted new policies that require employers to delay inquiries into job applicants’ conviction or arrest histories until later in the hiring process.

(Why delay these inquiries and background checks? That small change allows people with records to be judged first on their qualifications, and not immediately dismissed because of a past conviction. Read more here.)

Fair chance hiring reforms were embraced in both red and blue states across the country in 2017. The governors of Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Arizona issued executive orders delaying conviction and arrest inquiries for hiring in the state executive branch. Nevada and Utah enacted legislation to delay background checks and record-related inquiries in state or local government hiring. And finally, California enacted legislation requiring public- and private-sector employers to delay inquiries and background checks until after selecting a candidate and making a conditional job offer.

Thanks to successful organizing by directly impacted people—like All of Us or None, the grassroots group that began the call to “ban the box” nearly fifteen years ago—elected officials around the country increasingly recognize the merits of fair chance hiring. A total of 30 states have adopted a fair chance policy for at least government hiring. Over 70% of the U.S. population now lives in one of those 30 states, or the more than 150 cities and counties that have banned the box.

2017 also saw progress at the local level. The City of Spokane, Washington became the sixteenth locality to enact fair-chance legislation applicable to the private sector. Those cities and counties join ten states (including California) that have adopted similar measures. In sum, nearly one-third of the U.S. population now lives in a jurisdiction where private-sector employers must delay record-related inquiries and background checks.

But how many people actually stand to benefit from the new policies adopted in 2017? More than you might think. Across the nation, nearly one in three U.S. adults has an arrest or conviction record that can show up on an employment background check. And, with almost a quarter of the U.S. population currently residing in a state or locality that adopted a new ban-the-box law or policy last year, the potential impact is immense. Those with records are disproportionately people of color, who already face greater obstacles when seeking work. And it’s important to recognize that we all benefit when people with records have access to work—through a stronger economy and increased public safety.

Two additional states came within arm’s reach of enacting a private-sector fair-chance laws in 2017. The New Mexico legislature approved a bill, only to have it killed by the veto of Governor Martinez (R). Both chambers of the Washington state legislature passed bills as well, but they contained differences that couldn’t be reconciled. Fair chance legislation has already been reintroduced for 2018, and there’s hope for a positive result.[i]

Several states also made progress on an issue that typically garners less attention than ban the box—“fair chance licensing.” These reforms aim to reduce barriers to licensed occupations faced by people with records. Roughly one in four U.S. workers needs a license or certification to do their job, making it a salient issue for many people. At least four states, spanning the geographic and political gamut, enacted laws in 2017—Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois, and Arizona. On this front, too, more progress is expected in 2018, so please stay tuned—we need you in this fight.


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Endnotes

[i] To learn more, visit http://www.wafairchancecoalition.org.

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