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Senate Advances Bill That Bars Employers From Asking About Criminal Record On Job Application

The Vermont Senate has given its unanimous support to legislation that's designed to improve employment opportunities for people who have a criminal record in their past. Backers of the bill say it's needed because many people who've been convicted of a crime never get past the application process if they have to initially disclose this information to an employer.

Under this legislation, employers would be prohibited from seeking this information at the beginning of the hiring process.

Senate Economic Development chairman Kevin Mullin says the bill is designed to give this group of people an important second chance in life.

"That is attempting to try to open a doorway for someone who may have done something wrong in the past but can ultimately be a very valuable employee for an organization," Mullin explained.

And Mullin points out the state of Vermont stepped forward and put this policy in place last year.

"Rather than just going first and saying that all employers should do this," says Mullin, "the state actually implemented the policy ... and we're very pleased with the results that the state has seen so far."

The bill is a top priority for Vermont Legal Aid. Staff Attorney Chris Curtis notes that employers can still ask about a person's criminal record during the interview process.

"This allows them to get before the employer if they're selected as qualified on their merits and be able to explain something that might be in their past that really no longer applies to their ability to do a job," Curtis says. 

Dan Barlow is a spokesperson for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. He says his organization's 750 members see the bill as an effective way to break the cycle of poverty for many people with criminal records.

"Just because a person has a felony conviction or a crime in their past shouldn't be a scarlet letter when it comes to employment," says Barlow. "When that happens you're not only condemning that person to poverty but their families to poverty."

The outlook for the legislation is very good because the House passed a similar bill earlier this session. House leaders will now review the Senate bill to see if any additional changes are needed.

Copyright 2016 Vermont Public Radio