The Arizona Senate passed “ban the box” legislation that would make it easier for people convicted of felonies to get jobs by limiting what prospective employers can ask about their criminal histories.
Sen. Martin Quezada’s Senate Bill 1437 would prohibit private sector employers from asking job applicants about their criminal histories until they’ve given the applicant a job interview or, if there is no interview, given a conditional offer of employment. Even in those situations, employers would only be able to ask about criminal records in the preceding seven years, and the conviction would have to be directly related to the job in question.
Such policies are often referred to with the phrase “ban the box” because they eliminate the boxes on many employment applications that people must check if they’ve been convicted of a felony.
“The whole point behind that is to give the employer the opportunity to judge the applicant on their merits rather than on their past mistake. And what’s happening is a lot of applicants are checking that box at the beginning of the application and employers are just looking at it and immediately tossing those applications,” Quezada, D-Glendale, told the Arizona Mirror.
Quezada’s bill would only apply to businesses with more than 15 employees. It exempts any position that requires fingerprint clearance from the state, any position at a public airport, or positions in law enforcement, firefighting, prosecutorial agencies, emergency medical services transport, court security or probation offices.
The initial version of the bill included language that would have barred landlords from inquiring about prospective tenants’ criminal histories in most cases. But Quezada and Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, crafted an amendment that removed that section of the bill, leaving only the provision on employment. Quezada agreed to remove the housing provision due to Republican opposition.
The Senate passed the bill 17-13, four Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues. Along with Pace and Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita, R-Scottsdale, who both supported the bill in the Senate Commerce Committee last month, Sens. Katie Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, voted for SB1437 on the Senate floor.
SB1437 will now go to the Arizona House of Representatives.
Pace’s amended wasn’t enough to earn the support of some Republicans. Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, spoke against SB1437 on the Senate floor, calling the bill an infringement on private property rights.
Farnsworth said he believes private employers should give opportunities to people with felony records, and noted that he’s sponsored legislation making it easier for homebuilders to hire those who’ve had felony convictions. And he said it would make sense for the government to adopt such a policy. But he balked at forcing people in the private sector to do the same, and said business owners have the right to know who they’re hiring.
“Private property rights are the foundation of freedom in this country and we continue to erode them,” Farnsworth said. “What we’re doing is simply saying we are erring on the side of somebody who is a convicted felon versus the person who is not a convicted felon who has a property interest. I think this is the wrong path.”
SB1437 would also apply “ban the box” policies to state government hiring practices. Gov. Doug Ducey implemented a similar policy via executive order in 2017, barring state agencies from asking about applicants’ criminal histories until after the initial part of the hiring process. Quezada’s bill would enshrine that policy in state statute.
SB1437’s approval in the Senate’s committee of the whole comes just two days after organizers took part in the National Day of Empathy at the Arizona Capitol to raise awareness of the lack of job opportunities facing people convicted of crimes when they get out of prison. Several advocates, including Quezada, spoke of the need to provide education and training to inmates while they’re behind bars and job opportunities once they’re released, which they said is key to ensuring that people don’t end up back in prison.