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Syracuse Common Council considers Ban the Box legislation

Syracuse lawmakers are making more changes to the proposed Ban the Box legislation. A scheduled vote has been put off until after another committee meeting, to discuss the latest iteration of the civil rights legislation.

Ban the Box legislation is meant to get rid of the check box on a hiring application that asks if applicants have a criminal history. For Brian Johnson of Syracuse, that box is keeping him from getting a job, even though it’s been seven years since his encounter with the law.

“Sometimes you can have attitudes and behaviors and addictions, and they can take you to places you thought you’d never go," Johnson said. "But then once you recover yourself, and you say you’ve been wrong and you take steps to make things straight and you’re qualified, and now you’re rejected.”

Johnson says he’s now hit a dead end in trying to get a job.

"I had some issues, and I overcame issues for multiple years," Johnson explained. "And so now I’m qualified to work, and finally have an opportunity to have a good job, and my past history is haunting me now.”

Lawmakers have been talking about it for months, and have scaled down an earlier version that would have forced all businesses in the city of Syracuse to keep a criminal record out of the hiring process. Councilor Khalid Bey says the city is currently tweaking language in a scaled back version of the law, that would apply only to the city and businesses that contract with the city.  

“So in this respect, with Ban the Box, you contract with the city, similar with NWBD requirements or any other kind of requirement," Bey said. "We’re saying this would be one of the requirements for the duration of the contract and for whatever that amount of money that is they ban the box or postpone the question of a person’s criminal conviction.”

Bey says he’s also okay with the slower approach.

“What we’re talking about is a culture change.  Lets be honest.  And to change conditioned behavior is a lot harder that some of the other easier changes we make.”

Business interests in Syracuse are opposed to banning the box, instead suggesting  voluntary programs that would encourage employers to hire ex-convicts. The council is expected to vote on the legislation in mid-September.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.