Leaders consider removing arrest, conviction question from job applications

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Should ex-offenders be given a second chance?

Wednesday the Kansas City, Missouri City Council will consider removing questions about arrests or convictions from city employment applications. It applies to job candidates with any arrest or conviction, misdemeanor or felony. But, some argue it's the wrong move and say it's a step backward.

Former offender Deborah Neal was one of a dozen people who gathered outside City Hall Monday for a 'Ban the Box' rally. The former Kansas City Municipal Court Judge says former offenders like her deserve a second chance.

"I was a compulsive gambler and I did some things that were unethical as a judge and it led to a federal investigation and a federal conviction," said Neal.

Neal pleaded guilty and served time for mail fraud. She now works in re-entry and helps others get back on their feet after an arrest, conviction or time served in jail. She says one key to helping others get back on their feet is a job.

"Employment is one of the most important facets of anyone's journey back home when it comes to getting their life together," she said.

Jermaine Reed, 3rd District City Councilman, is sponsoring the legislation. He says after paying their debt to society an ex-offender should be able to get work.

"People with records face discrimination stigma and barriers every single day not just in employment but in housing education services and other areas of well," said Councilman Reed.

But, Reed says banning the box won't guarantee an offender a job. He says ban a box does not get rid of, but simply defers background checks until the final phase of the hiring process.

"Allowing the best candidate to be selected on the merits and not disqualified upfront because of a mistake he or she made 20 or 30 years ago," he said.

But, Peggy and Gene Schmidt say 'banning the box' is a step backward. Their daughter Stephanie was kidnapped, raped and murdered just before her 20th birthday in 1993 by a co-worker who had spent time in prison for rape. They say employers should never be blindfolded during the hiring process.

"I think weakening the law has no advantage at all I think it leads to a slippery slope where we just keep eating away at it," said Gene.

The Schmidt's say if anything we need to tighten current laws on the books.

"We have enough trouble now enforcing some laws particularly regarding sex offenders we get very lax," Gene said.

The Kansas City, Missouri City Council will consider the proposal Wednesday in a joint committee meeting. Councilman Reed says currently more than seven states and 42 cities have passed similar 'ban the box' initiatives.

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