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Criminal background checks

Published (5/6/2011)
By Nick Busse
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For ex-offenders, having to admit to their criminal past on a job application might be a roadblock to a second chance at life. A House committee approved a bill designed to remove that barrier and help them get their foot in the door with a prospective employer.

Sponsored by Rep. Carol McFarlane (R-White Bear Lake), HF1448 would prohibit employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal record or history unless and until they have been selected for an interview.

The House Jobs and Economic Development Finance Committee approved the bill April 28 and sent it to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee.

The bill is a proposed expansion of a 2009 law that banned government employers from considering a job applicant’s criminal background in the initial job application process. McFarlane said qualified job candidates are sometimes unfairly discriminated against because of past mistakes.

“Instead of being evaluated for potential employment based on their skill sets and being given the opportunity to share their experience in an interview… employers first evaluate them based on a checkbox on an application form,” she said.

Rep. Ernie Leidiger (R-Mayer) said the bill “strikes a very good balance” by giving applicants a fair chance in the application process, but still letting employers find out about their criminal past before a final hiring decision is made.

Kristin Fernholz, government relations director for the Minnesota Retailers Association, said the bill would “create a massive inefficiency” by making employers interview candidates they won’t hire anyway once their criminal histories are known.

“Background checks are a critical and crucial tool to ensuring the safety of customers and employees,” Fernholz said.

Rep. Kirk Stensrud (R-Eden Prairie), a small business owner, said he would not necessarily discriminate against a potential employee because of a criminal record, but that he wanted to know before the interview, not after.

“I want to know that up front, and I don’t want to waste my valuable time as a business owner,” he said.

Sen. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton) sponsors the companion, SF1122, which awaits action by the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee.

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