Private employers in Austin may not be able to ask for conviction history

Unknown Object District 4 Council Member Greg Casar speaks to his resolution regarding a fair chance hiring practice. He was joined by Mayor Steve Adler and District 1 Council Member Ora Houston.[/caption]

UPDATE 5/22/2015: Austin City Council passed a resolution to consider requiring private employers in Austin to follow fair chance hiring practices.




Private employers in Austin might have to remove a box on job applications asking if an applicant has a criminal history.

A resolution Austin City Council is considering May 21 would direct City Manager Marc Ott to craft language and work with stakeholders to potentially create a new city law to "Ban the Box" about conviction history on job applications. Such practice is typically referred to as fair chance hiring.

"These fair chance rules are anti-discriminatory at heart and a small piece of creating opportunity, which is so important for those folks who too often aren't given a shot at employment in our communities," said District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who sponsored the resolution.

Such a policy is already in place in six states and 25 cities, Casar said. Austin follows the practice when hiring city employees and staff.

Mark Washington, acting assistant city manager, said having the Ban the Box policy in place has helped the hiring process become more efficient and saved the taxpayers money by running fewer background checks. Background checks for city applicants are now only run once the pool of applicants has been narrowed to those likely to be offered the job, Washington said.

"There is some skepticism about such employment practices from some employers across the nation, but our report today is that we have not only survived but we have thrived as an employer," Washington said. "We have not focused on a person's inabilities based on their criminal history, but we focus more on their capabilities and have the interview based on what their relative work experience is ... and save the background check as the last part of the process."

Changing Austin's law could help solve equity issues some residents face, Casar said.

"I think that Austinites understand that we are in the midst of great prosperity, but we want to make sure that prosperity is shared and people aren't left behind," Casar said. "I hear all the time from constituents in my district that are being left behind by Austin's boom, and I want to [give a chance to] those folks that have done their time and want to be productive and want to be part of our great workforce."

Community member Matt Sheehy spoke during the May 21 news conference held before the council meeting. Sheehy said he served nearly nine years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense and thinks a fair chance policy would help other residents like him.

"Upon my return I just wanted to get back with my family, engage in the community and be a productive member of society once again," Sheehy said.

Finding housing can also be difficult for those with prior convictions, Sheehy said. The resolution by Casar does not speak to fair chance practices for housing, but it could be a step the city takes down the road, he said.

The law slated to return to the council's Economic Opportunity Committee in September could pertain to just a handful of employers, only employers that contract with the city or all employers in Austin's city limits, Casar said.
By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.


MOST RECENT

The new 35-story building overlooks Lady Bird Lake and Shoal Creek. (Trent Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Workers celebrate topping out of Austin 'sailboat building' concrete structure

Workers who contribute to the construction of the Block 185 building celebrated topping off the structure, a big milestone for the development project that began in 2019.

A system to identify at-risk Austin Police Department employees has not been effective. (Maggie Quinlan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Audit finds Austin police system to flag at-risk officers is failing

Austin's city auditor and police chief agree the police department's computer program to identify at-risk officers is not fulfilling its mission.

A rise in COVID-19 cases has Travis County back in stage 4. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Austin reverts to Stage 4 guidelines with rising delta variant cases

As delta variant COVID -19 cases are sending more young people to local ICUs, The Austin-Travis County Health Authority has moved the area back to guidelines that require masks indoors.

Opening day at Q2 Stadium
US men’s soccer team to visit Q2 Stadium this fall

The U.S. men's national team will host Jamaica for a FIFA World Cup qualifier game on Oct. 7.

Capital Metro is hosting a series of virtual meetings to hear feedback from the community on the latest Project Connect designs. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Capital Metro seeks community input on latest Project Connect design

Want to have your voice heard about Project Connect? Tune in to the upcoming virtual meetings.

Leander Marketplace PUD would be located at the northeast corner of Hero Way and US 183. (Screenshot courtesy city of Leander)
Leander eyes development with restaurants, retail; Bin Drop opens in New Braunfels and more top Central Texas news

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Central Texas area.

Dozens of Austin residents spoke virtually and in person July 22 to share their thoughts on the city's proposed fiscal year 2021-22 budget. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police funding again takes center stage in public hearing on Austin's proposed FY 2021-22 budget

Dozens of city residents calling into or appearing at City Hall on July 22 shared their thoughts about policing and the city's spending plan.

Mortgage purchase applications are down year over year, but the Austin housing market remains hot. (Benton Graham/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin housing market still hot but showing signs of slowing down

Experts say that a decrease in mortgage purchase applications points to “a reversion back to norm” in the Austin housing market.

Peter Lake (left), chair of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, and Brad Jones, interim president and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, provided an update on state regulators' electric grid redesign efforts in Austin on July 22. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Regulators: Texas electric grid prepared for potentially record-breaking demand next week; 'once-in-a-generation reforms' underway

The heads of the agencies in charge of the Texas electric grid met in Austin on July 22 to provide updates on their grid reform efforts.

Z'Tejas margarita
Where to celebrate National Tequila Day this year around Austin

From mezcal bars to frozen margarita specials, here is a list of places to celebrate National Tequila Day on July 24.

Photo of men at a restaurant
New American restaurant 1417 launches on South First, plus more openings in South Austin

The bistro comes from the team behind downtown French gastropub Hopfield's.