Ban the Box: Will the social justice effort reach Huntsville?

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - "Ban the Box" describes the national movement to eliminate the checkbox on job applications asking about criminal history or convictions.

The mayor of Birmingham banned the box for municipal jobs last week.

Social justice advocates say eliminating the box on job applications that asks about criminal convictions can help people re-integrate from incarceration into the workforce. It's meant to help keep them from re-offending.

Birmingham's mayor used executive order to Ban the Box for municipal jobs there.

So will Huntsville follow their lead?

Not necessarily.

A statement from the city reads in part, "The City of Huntsville`s Human Resources Department is aware of recent conversations around 'ban the box' including the position the mayor has taken in Birmingham. Human Resources has not had an opportunity to evaluate what the City of Huntsville might do in the future and will include the City`s legal counsel in any future considerations of this matter."

After all, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides guidance on checking criminal convictions.

The city's statement notes, "By law, we cannot and do not discriminate against a candidate because he or she has 'checked the box' and answered this question affirmatively."

Later, it reaffirms, "No one is automatically rejected because they admitted to a prior conviction."

Of course, the City could only cover its own municipal jobs. Other larger efforts still push the issue.

President Barack Obama has backed "banning the box" on a much higher level, specifically for federal employment.

A White House Fact Sheet from November 2015 specifically praises bipartisan efforts in congress to do that.

He has also praised the effort for government contractors, which could trickle down to Redstone Arsenal.

Plus the EEOCĀ  issued lengthy guidance on the limits of how criminal history can be used in the hiring process all the way back in 2012.

Specifically the EEOC guidance states that employers should weigh the gravity of the offense committed, the time since the offense, and the nature of the job.

In Alabama, a state senate committee will consider a bill this year that will prevent employers from asking about conviction history until a conditional job offer.

The bill has not been filed yet, and it would have to clear committee, then the senate, then the house, so it's likely to change before any vote.

Still, we called around to ask legislators about the effort.

Representative Mike Ball (R-Madison), for example, told us he wants to make sure to that companies can still ask important questions. For example, in the application process for an accounting job, you would want to ask if someone had a fraud conviction.

However, he says if the information can come out in the interview stage, then it might be appropriate to ban the box from initial application.

Governor Robert Bentley spent a lot of his state of the state talking about prison reform.

Advocates of banning the box say it helps keep convicted criminals from re-offending, since they're less likely to turn to crime with job. So we reached out to Governor Bentley's press office to see if he might consider executive action that would mimic what we saw in Birmingham.

We did not get a response.

While "Ban the Box" has not reached critical mass, it has reached a lot of radars with the potential to take hold on one or more that could impact Huntsville.