By Shaun Boyd
DENVER (CBS4) - It's called "ban the box" -- a bill that would ban employers from including a box asking about criminal history on initial job applications passed a House committee at the state Capitol on Tuesday.
"This is about public safety. If we can give people who have criminal records an opportunity to become productive citizens, to gain employment and have a future to look forward to and some hope, then we will reduce our crime rate," said Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, the bill's sponsor.
McCann says Colorado has the third highest recidivism rate in the country and employment is the single biggest factor in determining whether someone will reoffend.
Jennifer Bundy is among those supporting the legislation. Convicted of embezzlement, she served six years in prison.
"I was highly employable and could offer a lot to any employer, but because of that box I had to check -- "are you a felon" -- my application was pushed to the side or tossed away," Bundy said. "With every phone I call made there was another rejection -- 'I'm sorry we don't hire felons.' I couldn't even get employment at a large hamburger joint."
The Colorado Center on Law and Policy pushed for the bill. Executive Director Claire Levy says at least 60 percent of people released from prison are unemployed a year later.
"Too often a single brush with law, no matter how long ago, can impose a never ending sentence to a life in poverty," Levy said.
Bundy says she applied for 42 jobs before someone finally hired her.
"I ask that you let us just get through the door to get an interview so employers can see that we can be valuable assets to their companies," she said.
"I don't think the current process precludes that," said Loren Furman with the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, which represents thousands of companies around the state.
Furman says most applications allow for explanations. But she says employers should have the information from the start.
"If an employer has to interview that person and then ask the question and then do the background check and then find something later on, the employer is going to be disappointed, the potential employee is going to be disappointed. So for both parties it just makes sense that we're honest from the very beginning," she said.
It's already against the law to ask about criminal history on applications for jobs with the state government. Seven other states have passed "ban the box" laws for the private companies.
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