ST. LOUIS – Missouri is removing questions about a job candidate's criminal history from initial applications for work within state government, even as a legislative effort to also "ban the box" in the private sector stalls.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon on Monday signed an executive order at a St. Louis job training center that directs state departments, boards and commissions under the executive branch to strip questions about criminal history from the job applications prospective workers first fill out. Similar "ban the box" laws are in place in 21 other states and more than 100 cities and counties, according to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group.
"It is important to the state of Missouri and to our communities that every Missourian has a meaningful opportunity to compete for a job," Nixon said. "That opportunity must include the thousands of men and women who have served time in prison, paid their debts to society and are attempting to successfully return to their communities as productive, law abiding citizens."
Nixon cited Missouri Department of Corrections data showing a 44 percent unemployment rate for state residents on parole in 2015. That compares to an overall statewide unemployment rate of 4.2 percent in February, the lowest mark in more than 15 years.
The governor was joined by nine state lawmakers, including the Democratic sponsor of a House measure to prohibit private employers from including questions about criminal history on job applications. Both that bill and a Senate proposal covering public employees were introduced in January but have not been assigned to committees in the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Nixon called the executive order a "first step" that he hopes will fuel momentum to make it more widespread, whether legislatively or through voluntary efforts by businesses that would join Target, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Koch Industries, Starbucks and Facebook, among others that don't ask such questions on initial applications.
Nixon's order doesn't prevent the state from asking about an applicant's criminal record later in the hiring process. Jobs for which convictions of certain crimes makes an applicant ineligible – such as bank examiners – are exempt from the rule.
Among those at the governor's news conference was Toni Jordan, 52, who said that a 17-year crack cocaine addiction led to multiple shoplifting convictions that stalled her efforts to find work after getting out of prison. She now works for a church-based program that helps female ex-offenders.
"Who can't do telemarketing, calling people to try to sell something?" she said. "The things I stole, I had to sell. I was a good saleswoman. If I did leave (the box) unchecked, when I would get an interview, I'd try to explain myself. But it just didn't help."