Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation aimed at helping former prisoners get jobs.
The new law means many people who seek jobs with state or local governments will no longer be asked on their initial application whether they have a criminal conviction.
Brown signed the measure, AB 218 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, in October. It took effect in July of 2013.
It will not prohibit government employers from inquiring whether an applicant has a criminal record or conducting a background check once the employer determines the applicant has the basic qualifications for the job in question.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, supporters of the bill promote it as a channel for ex-offenders to compete for jobs on an equal basis with others. Criminal checks for police, teachers, or government jobs working with children, the elderly or disabled are still permissible under the new law.
“A mistake from your past shouldn’t be a life sentence,” Michelle Rodriguez, attorney with the National Employment Law Project in Oakland, told the Chronicle. Some civil rights groups contend that questioning applicants about their prior criminal record disproportionately affects minorities.
In 2010, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger instructed most state agencies to cease the inquiries, but AB218 codifies that executive order into law and applies it to include local governmental agencies.
The Chronicle reported eight other states have a similar law on the books and in 2012, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recommended that private companies also cease asking if a person has a criminal conviction.
Oakland and Richmond, have passed similar laws applying to private companies, according to news reports.
“We try to point out to the employers that there are many highly qualified people who have had some kind of interaction with the law who would be an asset to their employment pool,” said Linda Evans of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children.