Proposed bill would ban Texas cities from ‘fair chance’ hiring ordinances

Construction crews (KXAN Photo)
Construction crews (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas lawmaker Rep. Paul Workman introduced bill HB 577 that wants to ban local governments, like the city of Austin, from forcing private employers in “Ban the Box” and “Fair Chance” hiring ordinances.

Back in March, the city council voted to delay background checks until a potential employee was given a hire-offer. The goal was to allow people with criminal history a better chance at finding jobs.

Jorge Renaud, the Organizer for Texas advocates for justice, says the new proposed bill would hurt people like him who needed to get back into the workforce.

“I was released from prison in 2008, I was paroled, I received my degree, a masters in social work in 2012,” Renaud says. “These are people who like myself have come out of prison that have been out 4, 5 or 6 years, have advanced degrees, haven’t done anything since they’ve been out, and still cant find positions.”

Some, however, think ordinances like Austin’s create an undue burden on local businesses. The Texas Association of Business’ Vice-President of Governmental affairs, Cathy Dewitt says, employers aren’t getting the full picture of who they’re talking to when ordinances like the fair-chance one are put in place.

“Like it or not, a person’s past and their history is a part of [the full picture] and what we really need to do is educate employers more and give more people who have been incarcerated, the skills and the chances,” Dewitt says.

The association says they agree everyone deserves a second chance, but this is not the way. “I think also those applying for the job would like to know up front, what really are the requirements, what are the things that you know, could prevent them from getting the job, so to save a lot of time,” Dewitt said.

She argues that if local governments want to use hiring practices like “Ban the Box” or “Fair-Chance” they can, but it infringes too much on private businesses. “The city of Austin is the only one that has extended it to the private employers, and how they’ve done so, almost creates a protected class for criminals, while we do want to help them, in creating a protective class, can be considered unfair.”

Renaud says, “All those individuals, you’re going to deny them the opportunity, the real opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with a potential employer, we’re going to say no because of that history, we’re not going to talk to you, we prefer that you either go out and steal or cheat or do something else to break the law.”

Rep. Workman said in a statement:

When a local government oversteps its bounds in such a profound way, no matter how laudable the goal, there will always be drastic, unintended consequences. I have supported efforts to promote sound policies to reduce recidivism rates in our state. I will continue to support policies that promote re-entry and public safety.”

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, who helped advocate for Austin’s Fair-Chance ordinance, said in part:

We will keep fighting for fairness and justice in our community. One in three adults in Texas has a criminal record, and nearly 2,200 individuals released from Texas prisons return to the Austin area each year. These issues of criminal justice and civil rights affect us all. We can’t rely on the Legislature to fix these problems, but I promise you this — we’re not going to let them stop us from solving these issues ourselves.”