By Jimmy Isaac of the Longview News Journal
Jan. 24, 2017 at 11:07 p.m.

KILGORE — Texas businesses leaders say they support criminal justice reforms that expand the state’s workforce pool, but not “ban the box” requirements.

The issue was part of a legislative update Tuesday from Aaron Cox, chamber relations vice president for the Texas Association of Business, at a Kilgore Chamber of Commerce BizConnect luncheon. About 25 chamber members and business people attended at Bodacious Bar-B-Q.

Ban the box ordinances — named for the box on job applications that applicants mark if they’ve been convicted of a crime — prohibit employers from asking about criminal histories. So-called “fair chance” ordinances prohibit employers from running a criminal background check until after an initial job offer has been made.

The Austin City Council adopted a fair chance ordinance 10 months ago, with civil penalties of up to $500 per job if an employer doesn’t wait to ask about an applicant’s criminal history until after the employer extends a conditional job offer. Austin and Travis County have had “ban the box” ordinances since 2008, according to the National Employment Law Project.

“It’s really aimed at, in their mind, providing opportunity for employments, not having ex-offenders be weeded out of the process early on because they have a record,” Cox said of the ordinances’ intent. “They want them to get a chance, is really the argument behind it, in my mind.”

But while the Texas Association of Business directors list criminal justice reforms among their top five priorities in the 85th Legislative Session, Cox said ban the box and fair chance laws are “definitely not” part of the group’s platform.

“So you interview them, you spend company resources interviewing, going through all of the due diligence, and you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Wow, I think we’ve got the best person in the world to work at our bank,’ Cox said, and continued, ‘So, you ever been convicted of a felony?’ ‘Yep, I stole a million dollars from my last employer.’

“That’s not OK,” Cox said. “We will continue to oppose (the law). We understand that we have to re-integrate people, but that’s not the way to do it.”
Kilgore Chamber of Commerce Board President Reece Nichols, who also is a Edward Jones financial adviser, said that once a candidate applies for a job with Edward Jones, the firm conducts as many as three interviews before performing a background check. Nichols said it amounts to about 20 hours that the firm and the applicant invest in the hiring process, and that is avoided by asking a candidate at the initial application.

“I would not support not knowing if my employee had been convicted of a federal offense,” Nichols said.

House Bill 577, introduced by state Rep. Paul Workman, would prohibit Austin and other cities and counties from enforcing local fair chance ordinances.