City Hall Notebook: Banning the Box and Baring Criminal Records

Dec 6, 2013

Baltimore City Council meeting for the final time this year. City Council President Jack Young (center) says a lot was accomplished this year but there will be a lot more to accomplish in 2014
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

In its last meeting of the year the Baltimore City Council got a glimpse of a bill one member says would help the city’s chronic high unemployment rate and an effort to bare the records of defendants in sexual assault cases.

Councilman Nick Mosby introduced a “Ban the Box” bill. It would forbid employers from asking applicants whether they have been convicted of a crime. And Mary Pat Clarke introduced a resolution aimed at making a sexual assault defendant’s criminal record fair game at trials.

Mosby, who represents parts of West Baltimore, said the bill will help people whose job searches have been short circuited by the box.

“When you have to go in through an application and you have to check that box and say ‘yes, I’ve been convicted of a crime,’ that generic, that blank, a lot of times and a lot of different employers will vet through those applications and throw those applications,” said Mosby, “That person never gets a fair shot to compete for that job.”

Governor Martin O’Malley signed a similar bill into law last May. It prevents most state agencies from using the box on job applications.

Neither the state law nor Mosby’s bill would prevent employers from running background checks on job candidates, but they would have to wait until after the interview.

Mosby said the interview is key for job hunters.  “It’s one thing to look at a person’s application or resume; it’s another thing to sit down in front of [an applicant] and allow them to sell themselves.”

Clark said her resolution would level the playing field in sexual assault trials.

“[A victim’s life] can be spread out in front of a jury but unless a judge gives permission the past criminal history of an accused is not available at all,” she said.

Clarke, who represents parts of North and Northeast Baltimore said she drafted the resolution after victim’s advocates talked about balancing “he said, she said” scenarios in the court room.

She also said she had in mind the case of Nelson Clifford, a registered sex offender who recently was acquitted of four rapes and is scheduled for trial in January on a fifth charge, according to online court records.

Clifford’s case has caught the attention of two candidates for State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby and Russell Neverdon, who pointed to the acquittals as a sign of ineffective prosecution by current State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein.

Council recognizes death of Nelson Mandela

The council also paused for a moment of silence in memory of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday at the age of 95, as well as several former city employees who also passed away recently.

Council President Jack Young said Mandela was an inspiration to him as a civic leader to let the people that he represents shine.  “To not have it being about me but about the people that I serve, I saw that in him,” said Young.

Other Notes

- The council approved a resolution recognizing December 21 as National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.  The resolution comes after homeless advocates fought against a bill that would ban panhandling in traffic and near outdoor dining and parking downtown. That bill was sent back to committee.

- Councilman Bill Henry proposed a resolution asking the state to pass a Statewide Bottle Deposit Law as a means to reduce litter. A statewide bill died in committee during the last General Assembly session.