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"Ban the Box" employment proposal controversial

The Syracuse Common Council is considering legislation that would prohibit businesses from screening prospective job applicants about their history of criminal convictions, early on in the hiring process. It's a concept meant to stop discrimination against potential employees with a criminal record.

The legislation, championed by The Center for Community Alternatives in Syracuse, would fine employers who ask a job applicant if they've been  convicted of a crime on a job application, or while being interviewed. Center co-director of justice strategies and council Alan Rosenthal says this simply defers the question of criminal history to later in the hiring process.

"You're considered on your merits at a point where an employer thinks, 'geez you're the most qualified.' At that point they are certainly welcome to do any background check they want," said Rosenthal.

But It's an idea that has local businesses up in arms. Centerstate CEO President Rob Simpson says he's heard from all different kinds of businesses concerned about this proposal. Simpson believes legislation like this will add more paperwork to the hiring process, making the Syracuse less attractive as a business destination.

"I worry about our ability to attract business. Think about a company that could be in DeWitt, or who could be in the city of Syracuse, but faced with restrictions like this, it's just one more obstacle to growing business in the city, which I think is our regional goal," said Simpson.

Rosenthal says this legislation would affect - and help - a lot of people, citing a statistic that one in three adults in the United States have some kind of criminal record.

Mayor Stephanie Miner is reviewing the legislation. A spokesman said her concern was there wasn't enough opportunity for public comment on the proposal, which was put on the Common Council agenda this week. Lawmakers have agreed to hold a committee meeting to further discuss what's being called the "Ban the Box" legislation.

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.