This afternoon, the Seattle City Council passed legislation to prohibit employers from executing criminal background checks of candidates during the first stage of the hiring process. The legislation passed unanimously, 9-0, and will go into effect on November 1, 2013.

"The purpose of the legislation is very simple: to reduce recidivism," the council's public safety chair, and the legislation's sponsor, Bruce Harrell said today before the vote. "When employment rates increase, crimes decrease."

The bill prohibits employers from asking whether candidates have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime until said employer has first weeded out unqualified applicants. The legislation pertains to all employment positions within city limits, as well as those that take place at least 50 percent of the time in Seattle (for instance, construction workers who work jobs both in and out of the city).

Once an initial screening process has taken place, employers will hopefully only consider a candidate's criminal history if it pertains to the job (the legislation broadly refers to an employer's "legitimate business interest"), and urges employers to "give the applicant or employee a reasonable opportunity to explain or correct" their criminal record. Noncompliant businesses face warnings for first offenses, fines up to $750 for second offenses, and fines up to $1,000 for third offenses and beyond. These businesses could also be on the hook for the city's attorney's fees.

The legislation passed basically unmolested today, with a few amended tweaks from council member Tim Burgess. Council member Sally Bagshaw introduced another pro-business amendment that would've stripped the Hearing Examiner and Seattle Office for Civil Rights the opportunity to seek attorney's fees from noncompliant businesses, but the amendment received no support from her peers.

"It's not necessarily terrible policy," Harrell demurred when pressed for his opinion on Bagshaw's amendment. "It's a concession the business community wanted because of concerns that SOCR or Hearing Examiner would be overreaching... I don't support the change because I see no reason for it. [These agencies] have no history of collecting attorney's fees unreasonably."

Ultimately, Bagshaw withdrew her amendment.

The legislation went through many iterations over many months, mostly seeking to address concerns from employers worried that this legislation would open them up to onerous lawsuits. Harrell politely addressed and those concerns once and for all today. "We know that in six months, we will review this legislation and in six months, you'll see that we don't have a line of litigants ready to sue the city. If that happens, it was bad legislation."