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September 18, 2019

Competing for Jobs Despite a Criminal History

Fair Chance Act May Finally Get a Fair Chance

Despite bicameral, bipartisan support in the 114th and 115th Congresses, the ABA and other backers of the Fair Chance Act were unable to overcome opposition. The bill has now returned in the 116th Congress where three times may be the proverbial charm for the Act and for the millions of people it could help.

The Fair Chance Act makes a simple proposition to federal agencies and contractors: Evaluate job applicants on their merits rather than solely on whether they ever had a run in with the law. In other words, unless hiring for a law enforcement or other sensitive job, the Act would require employers to refrain from conducting criminal background checks on job candidates until a conditional offer of employment has been extended. An employer would not have to hire a candidate with a record but now must consider whether that person’s criminal history is disqualifying for the position.

And it’s a bigger issue than you might think—more than 70 million American adults have an arrest or conviction that would show up in a routine background check. Economists estimate that blanket disqualification for people with criminal histories costs our economy billions of dollars, and having a job is a leading predictor as to whether a person will commit another crime in the future.

So, given how the Act helps support sentencing and correction reforms enacted at the end of last Congress, a committed group of people took matters into their own hands. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, supported by a coalition of organizations of different ideologies, worked successfully to have the Fair Chance Act amended to the House Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 2500, just prior to its passage on the House floor. The Senate had already completed its version of the Defense bill, S.1790, but it does not include the Fair Chance Act.

Lawmakers are now coming together to reconcile the differences between the two Defense bills. There has been bipartisan support from key Senators to include the First Chance Act, and the coalition of organizations continues its push, but historical opposition still remains. Hopefully, once lawmakers have had the chance to first consider the legislation on its merits, the Fair Chance Act will finally be enacted.

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