Bipartisan Legislation Supported by Baldwin to Give Formerly Incarcerated a Fair Chance at Federal Employment Moves Forward

VIDEO: Senator Baldwin Speaks in Committee on Fair Chance Act to Ban the Box

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today applauded the passage of the Fair Chance Act through the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC). The Fair Chance Act is bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would give formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance at securing employment by prohibiting federal contractors and federal agencies from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment. 

Senator Baldwin spoke at the HSGAC business meeting on October 7, 2015 in strong support of the legislation. Video of her remarks is available here.

“I wanted to take a moment to express my strong support for the Fair Chance Act. I am very proud to be an original cosponsor of this legislation and join a bipartisan effort with the Chairman, Senator Booker and Senator Ernst working to advance this reform,” said Senator Baldwin in the HSGAC session. “This legislation will open up federal employment opportunities, and a fair chance at success, for those who have been incarcerated.  People who have made mistakes and paid their debt to society deserve a chance to move forward and live a productive life... I am hopeful that by advancing this bill today, we can move toward policies that reduce recidivism and give every American a fair chance to secure a steady job, support their family and strengthen our communities.”

Senator Baldwin joined U.S. Senators Booker (D-NJ), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Joni Ernst (R-IA), along with Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), John Conyers (D-MI), and Bobby Scott (D-VA) in introducing the legislation.

Nationwide, states, cities and counties, including Dane and Milwaukee counties in Wisconsin, have been implementing “Ban the Box” polices to help people with records overcome the barrier to employment of having to “check the box” about a past felony conviction on a job application. Eighteen states and over 100 cities and counties have taken action, giving formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance to secure employment. Additionally, companies such as Walmart, Koch Industries, Target, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath & Beyond have embraced these “Ban the Box” policies to more fairly assess job applicants.

Currently, federal law does not prevent federal employers from asking a formerly incarcerated person about their past crimes at any stage of a job interview. The Fair Chance Act would bring the “Ban the Box” initiative to the federal hiring process and would prohibit federal employers and federal contractors from inquiring about criminal history information of a candidate until he or she is given a conditional offer of employment.

Exceptions are made for positions related to law enforcement and national security duties, positions that require access to classified information, or when disclosure before the conditional offer stage is required by law.

 The Fair Chance Act would: 

  • Ban the federal government—including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches—from requesting criminal history information from applicants until they reach the conditional offer stage;
  • Prohibit federal contractors from requesting criminal history information from candidates for positions within the scope of federal contracts until the conditional offer stage;
  • Include important exceptions for positions related to law enforcement and national security duties, positions requiring access to classified information, and positions for which access to criminal history information before the conditional offer stage is required by law; and
  • Require the Department of Labor, U.S. Census Bureau, and Bureau of Justice Statistics to issue a report on the employment statistics of formerly incarcerated individuals.

Over 70 million Americans who have criminal histories are faced with the daunting task of securing employment. They face improbable odds in obtaining a job as a result of an arrest or criminal conviction. Studies show that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50 percent for men in general.  African-American men with criminal records have been 60 percent less likely to receive a callback or job offer than those without records. For individuals trying to turn the page on a difficult chapter in their lives, a criminal conviction poses a substantial barrier to employment. 

In May, Senator Baldwin joined Senators Booker and Brown in leading a bipartisan group of 25 of their Senate colleagues in urging President Obama to expand job opportunities and reduce recidivism by taking executive action and requiring federal contractors and federal agencies to “ban the box” on job applications. The letter can be viewed here. 

The Fair Chance Act is supported by the Center for Urban Families, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Employment Law Project, and the National Black Prosecutors Association.