By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Virginia is now the 15th state to “ban the box” and the question asking job seekers if they have a felony or other criminal record when they initially apply for employment with the Commonwealth’s Executive Branch of government, only.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed Executive Order 41, during a press conference last week in Richmond, noting that criminal history shall not be a determining factor in employment decisions, unless an individual’s criminal history bears specific relation to the job for which they are being considered.
“In a new Virginia economy, people who make mistakes and pay the price should be welcomed back into society and given the opportunity to succeed,” said Governor McAuliffe. “This Executive Order will remove unnecessary obstacles to economic success for Virginians who deserve a second chance.”
State and local employment and rights advocates and politicians who support the idea, applaud the Governor’s action.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) Chairwoman, State Senator Mamie Locke, of Hampton, said in a statement released to the press that Executive Order 41 “removes an unnecessary obstacle.”
“This is a great step forward in the Commonwealth of Virginia for thousands of individuals who are deserving of a second chance,” said Locke “Banning the box from employment applications will, at the very least, give individuals an opportunity to be considered for jobs based upon their abilities rather than past mistakes. This does not mean that a person will be automatically hired, it just means he or she is not automatically rejected because of checking ‘yes’ on a box on an employment form.”
James Bailey is the regional Director of Virginia Cures, an advocacy group which supports restoring voting and other rights for individuals who have left the corrections system. He is also the Political Director of the Portsmouth Branch of the NAACP.
“What the Governor has done is awesome,” said Bailey. “This Governor has been very receptive to such reforms and I applaud him for it. Remember Governor McDonnell was very cooperative on this issue, too.”
Bailey said he hopes the Governor’s decision last week will help supporters of “Ban the Box” who are lobbying the political leaders of cities such as Chesapeake and Suffolk, which have been reluctant, to “Ban the Box.”
According to a press release from the Governor’s office, the order goes into effect immediately and directs the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) to amend the state employment application and to provide guidance to all agencies, boards and commissions within the executive branch of government.
Executive Order 41, encourages similar hiring practices among private employers operating within the Commonwealth and state government contractors.
Although the Executive Order will not ask the question on the state job applications, if the applicant is notified that he is considered for the position, the state will then inquire into any prior criminal history.
An applicant who refuses to sign the documents releasing his or her criminal record to the state Human Resources personnel will not be considered for the position.
The Virginia State Senate passed a “Ban the Box” bill during the 2015 session of the General Assembly.
But the measure was killed in the state’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates. This prompted McAuliffe to use an executive order. The measure comes one year after the governor expanded voting rights for convicted felons in his state.
According to civil rights advocates, there are over 70 million adults with arrest or conviction records in the United States. Dozens of municipalities have enacted similar policies.
As of April 2015, the criminal history box has been banned in the cities of Alexandria, Charlottesville, Danville, Fredericksburg, Harrisonburg, Martinsville, Newport News, Norfolk, Petersburg, Richmond, Roanoke, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, and Arlington and Fairfax Counties.