City council, public discus ban the box plan, would pull criminal history question from applications

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Jobs are difficult to find these days. Some Kansas City council members said on Wednesday landing a job with the city is even more difficult.

Council members approved a preliminary measure that would eliminate the need for a municipal job applicant to check a box if that person has a criminal background.

The question on all applications: "Have you ever been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor?"

Some council members said they believed "banning the box" on applications would improve public safety by giving people who have paid their just dues a new chance at a new life.

Johnnie Waller, Jr., a convicted felon for possession of marijuana, said his felony is only thing potential employers sees when he applies for a job because he has to check the box.

"It eliminates you from the beginning not anything based on merit, innovation or creativity, personal skills - just the box," Waller said.

He told city council members on Wednesday if the box was not there he would be able to get to at least the interview process and explain where his felony came from.

In Nebraska, the governor pardoned him and now he said he is working on his second college degree at Rockhurst on an academic scholarship. He is due to graduate again in May, and is looking for the same thing as most college grads.

"May is coming up and I'm out there looking for jobs," Waller said.

His story and others like it are why a majority of committee members voted on Wednesday to ask the full council to consider banning the box. Supporters said it would not eliminate conducting criminal background checks later.

City council member Scott Taylor voted no. He said it is a question that most private employers already ask and an answer the city should and needs to know.

"As a city we're a bit different than the private sector. We have a lot of jobs where we have public positions where people are working directly with citizens, with children,  seniors. I think we need to be careful," Taylor said.

The full council still must vote for final approval. The "ban the box" effort has been embraced in seven states and more than 40 cities.

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