JEFFERSON CITY — Early action on a bill that removes barriers for felons who want to take commonly available jobs gives it a good chance of passage in its third year, state Rep. Cheri Reisch said.
Reisch’s proposal would eliminate a paperwork requirement for bars and restaurants that serve alcohol and an outright ban on people with past felony convictions from working for businesses that sell lottery tickets. It passed 8-0 last Thursday in the House Special Committee on Criminal Justice and needs a vote in the Rules Committee before moving to the floor for debate.
“My analogy is, even at a Casey’s General Store you can’t make doughnuts and pizza in the back because they sell lottery tickets in the front,” said Reisch, R-Hallsville. “You can’t bag groceries and stock shelves in a grocery store because they sell lottery tickets.”
The state is making a push to reduce the prison population, and it fell by 13 percent in the fiscal year that ended June 30 to about 28,000. At the same time, the state had almost 104,000 people in community supervision – people on probation or parole, with a large percentage the result of felony convictions.
According to the Department of Corrections' most recent offender profile report, issued in January 2019, roughly half of female parolees and 60 percent of male parolees were employed. Among those on probation, approximately 60 percent of women and two-thirds of men were employed.
“In Boone County, with a 1.7 percent unemployment rate, we can’t find enough people, we can’t fill all the job openings,” Reisch said. “We want these people to get jobs, support themselves and not recidivate.”
The bill passed the House last year as part of a wide-ranging bill on criminal justice issues that failed to win approval in the state Senate, Reisch noted. She wants her bill to remain separate this year.
The bill, which hasn’t received much media attention, is getting a lot of notice from his constituents, said state Rep. Wiley Price, D-St. Louis, and a member of the committee that approved it unanimously.
“Any level of criminal justice reform we are putting forth is a big deal,” Price said. “What she’s doing is getting me a lot of calls and that almost never happens.”
The barriers Reisch’s bill would eliminate have a larger impact among black Missourians, who make up about one-eighth of the state’s overall population but about one-third of the prison population. Measures that help people being released find work will contribute to further reductions in the prison population, Price said.
The bill has broad support, ranging from the Missouri Petroleum Marketers Association, which is the trade organization for convenience stores, to the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Missouri Catholic Conference.
The paperwork requirement on retailers who sell alcohol is that they must send a notice to the Department of Public Safety when they hire someone who has a felony record. The bill will save a modest amount of money for those retailers, who will not have to take the time to file the notices, and the department, which will not have to process them, Reisch said.
“This not a ban the box,” she said, referring to efforts to bar employers from asking about criminal histories on initial application forms. “This is if an employer wants to hire a prior felon, they can. They don’t have to.”
The corrections report shows that Missouri had the eighth-highest incarceration rate in the nation in fiscal 2016, the most recent year figures are available, with the fifth-highest rate for incarcerating women.
The desire to increase employment is incompatible with such high incarceration rates, Price said.
“You can’t have both top five, most people in jail, and a workforce issue,” he said. “You have to have legislation kind of removing the excuses of these other corporations and companies that are not allowing these people coming in to make money.”