City Hall Notebook: The Box Is Banned

Apr 29, 2014

Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby asking supporters of his bill "Ban the Box" to stand during a roll call vote. The bill passed 10-4 amid concerns over criminal penalties in the bill.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns/WYPR

The Baltimore City Council voted to prevent employers from conducting criminal background checks before a job interview.

The council approved the “Ban The Box’ bill in a 10-4 vote Monday despite concerns from the business community over criminal penalties in the bill.

Violating the law will result in a misdemeanor resulting in a $500 fine and possible jail time for up to 90 days.

Councilman Nick Mosby, the bill’s sponsor, said the penalties added teeth to the bill.  “We didn’t want to develop a policy so important like this that folks feel like it’s a cost of doing business to get dinged for it and pay $350 or $500 fine,” said Mosby.

Councilman Bill Cole, who voted against the bill, couldn’t get the votes to present amendments to strip the penalties from it. He said he was hoping for more discussion about the penalties.

“It doesn’t seem intuitive to me that you’re going to pass a bill trying to hire ex-offenders by creating another class of criminals,” said Cole, who added that hiring ex-offenders is an important issue for the city.

Cole, whose district includes downtown Baltimore, also expressed concern on how the penalties were to be enforced.  “Who’s going to get hit; is it the president of the company; is it the director of HR; is it the person that processed the applications,” he asked.

Mosby said enforcing the law isn’t any more difficult than enforcing any other law and that it sends a strong message to employers.

“This is a city that’s serious about not discriminating against ex-offenders and to provide folks with the best opportunities possible,” he said.

Councilman Jim Kraft along with Councilwomen Rikki Spector and Helen Holton also voted against the bill, citing similar concerns over the penalties.

Don Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said he was disappointed that amendments proposed by the GBC were not included.  The amendments would have removed the penalties and allowed employers to conduct criminal background checks after a potential employee has been interviewed, rather than when a job offer is made.

“The inclusion of the amendments would have gone a long way to making the bill more workable for the business community,” Fry said.

Council President Jack Young said his support for the bill stemmed from meeting a white man at the Helping Up Mission who had a felony record because of his drug addiction and couldn’t get a job. “Every time he would go for a job interview, he would get kicked out so he felt useless,” he said.

The man eventually was hired at a major car dealership after impressing managers at his job interview and is now the number three salesman.  “When people look at people who have criminal records, they think they’re all African-Americans and that’s not the case,” Young said.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a statement calling passage of the bill critical to reducing unemployment and improving public safety in the city.

“When it comes to the crime fight, we have to use every tool available, which includes creating opportunities for those who have paid their debt to society and want to turn their lives around,” the mayor said.