12-05-2016  12:33 am      •     

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon employers would be barred from asking job seekers about their criminal backgrounds on application forms under a bill passed by House lawmakers Wednesday.

Known as "ban the box," the measure would forbid businesses from using application forms that ask candidates to state whether or not they have a criminal record. It does allow employers to ask questions about criminal records during interviews, when the applicant can offer an explanation.

The measure would also prevent employers from considering or inquiring about an applicant's criminal record before an interview or before making an employment offer if there was no interview.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rob Nosse, said the measure will help people with criminal records earn a living and rebuild their lives.

"We know that after spending time in prison it's not always easy to re-enter society. And all the research shows that access to housing and employment are among the two most effective ways that we reduce the chances of former inmates going back to prison," the Portland Democrat said.

Nosse said the bill doesn't override restrictions on people prohibited from working with some groups, such as children or the elderly, and it doesn't apply to jobs that lawfully require a background check.

But opponents argued the measure could expose employers to a slew of lawsuits if applicants believe their criminal records were considered before an interview.

"So in other words, you don't have to have a box on the application. But if you inquire into or considered the history of someone prior to an interview, you are committing an unlawful employment practice," said Rep. Mike McLane, the Republican leader in the House.

He also argued many companies, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc., have already removed the criminal history question from its application forms.

Groups that advocate for workers' rights have been lobbying state governments for years to adopt policies that reduce barriers to jobs for people with criminal histories. Supporters say the movement has gained momentum in the last two years as states including California to and Jersey have scrubbed the question from job applications.

According to Fair Chance For All, a coalition of more than 50 organizations across the state that support the measure, the box has already been eliminated from applications for jobs with the city of Portland and Multnomah County. Sixteen states, including Colorado, New Mexico and Georgia, have passed similar legislation.

Oregon's bill, HB 3025, passed on a 33-27 vote and now goes to the Senate.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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