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Politics & Government

'Ban the Box' Bill Ready to Become Law in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh City Council appears ready to pass legislation that would prohibit any criminal background inquiries on initial job applications for positions in city government, deferring those questions until the verbal interview process.

The measure unanimously passed a committee vote on Wednesday and is up for final approval today. Proponents of the legislation say it will allow ex-offenders to have a second chance for employment when they normally wouldn't be considered for an interview.

"It gives those who have committed felonies or misdemeanors or crimes in their past an opportunity to compete on an equal, level playing field for jobs which they are qualified for," said sponsoring Councilman Ricky Burgess. "If their [criminal] record comes up, it comes in the context of an interview, where they've already made at least the first cut."

The city's Law Department considered Burgess' proposal for the better part of a year before handing it back to Council with an affirmative recommendation. The legal opinion did suggest that the legislation be broken into two bills -- one that governs the city as an employer, and another that regulates contractors doing business with the city.

Those employers could only consider felony and misdemeanor offenses that are directly related to the job when turning down an applicant. Crimes more than seven years old could not be considered, nor could offenses that were expunged by court order.

There are an estimated 150,000 people in Allegheny County with some type of criminal record and 70,000 of those people live in the city of Pittsburgh, according to the Formerly Convicted Citizens Project, a group that lobbied for the legislation's passage.

The changes would apply to all city departments, excluding the city’s Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services bureaus. State and federal laws would pre-empt the ordinance, as would collective bargaining agreements. Any company to break the law would be subject to a fine of $500 to $2,000.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak noted that Pittsburgh is "behind the curve" in enacting ban the box legislation, as Philadelphia, San Francisco, Jacksonville, and many other US cities have already passed similar bills.