Members of the Washington State Legislature will return to Olympia next week to
posture, argue, and accomplish nothing debate and vote on bills in a new legislative session.
A few top-tier items—a capital budget, for one—will dominate the news out of Olympia, but Democrats may also use their new one-vote majority in the state senate to try to push some of their pet issues. Among them: employment protections for people with criminal records.
Cities like Seattle and Spokane have already passed so-called "ban the box" laws. These laws prohibit employers from asking about job applicants' criminal history until after an initial screening or interview. The rules are meant to stop companies from having policies like “felons need not apply" and to help people with criminal records get jobs.
The Fair Chance Act would prohibit employers across Washington from advertising jobs with statements like "no felons" or "no criminal background." It would also prohibit employers from asking a job applicant about their criminal record before determining whether the applicant meets the basic criteria for the job. The Washington State Attorney General would be responsible for enforcing the law.
The bill will receive a public hearing on January 10 at 1:30 pm in the Washington State Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. (The bill does not yet list a sponsor. I have a request in to legislative staff and will update this post when I hear back. UPDATE: Seattle Democratic Senator Rebecca Saldaña is sponsoring the bill and will formally introduce it tomorrow.)
The Washington State Labor Council, which has included the bill on its wish list for the legislative session, calls ban the box a chance for people who've served time in jail to make a fresh impression on potential employers.
"Once a formerly incarcerated person has fulfilled their debt to society," the WSLC writes, "they should be able to secure work. By waiting until after an interview to ask about criminal history, these people will have a fair chance to make their case to potential employers."