Excerpted from The Gainesville Sun article by John Henderson

Businesses in Gainesville, Florida with 15 or more employees would not be able to reject a job applicant based on their past arrests under a new law proposed by city officials. The City Commission has directed its legal team to draft a “fair chance hiring” ordinance that will be presented to the business community for input.

The proposed change would bar local businesses from performing criminal background screenings on job applicants prior to any employment offer.

“This is the beginning,” said Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut on Monday. “It is not the final ordinance. We certainly want input from the business community.”

Most employers would be barred initially from asking about someone’s criminal record. After a conditional offer of employment is made, the employer can do a criminal background check on applicant. But that applicant’s prior arrest record that failed to result in a conviction can’t be used against them to withdraw an offer.

Some exceptions, like when a criminal background check is required under state law, such as a daycare worker, will be made, city officials said. The city’s “fair chance hiring” law would be investigated and enforced by the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.

“People in this country are innocent until proven guilty,” said Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos. “I think the principles in our Constitution are pretty strong, and I think it is important to judge people on their guilt or innocence based on a jury of their peers.”

Under the proposal, businesses that violate the rule will first get a warning and then a fine from the city, commissioners agreed during the last General Policy Committee meeting. Among those requests are for employers to:

Mayor Lauren Poe said the new law may include a few exceptions, such as allowing employers to weigh arrests like domestic violence, which is often difficult to secure convictions due to witness intimidation and backtracked statements.

Poe said the city is also taking the preliminary recommendations and forwarding them for input to The Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.

Community Spring has put out a statement in support of the “fair chance” proposal, saying that about one out of every three adults in the U.S. has an arrest or conviction on their record.

“Many of them are turned away from jobs without being fully considered, despite being qualified and motivated to do the work,” the statement says.

It adds that as a result, formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of over 27% — higher than the unemployment rate during the Great Depression.

Max Tipping, a lawyer for Community Spring, said Monday that the new law needs to strike the right balance “for something that is going to be truly meaningful and make a difference while also making sure it is not a burden on employers.”

Tipping said other cities, like Chicago and Waterloo, Iowa, already have fair hiring laws.

“This is not some radical idea,” he said.

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