Congress Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Ensure Formerly Incarcerated and People with Records Have Fair Chance to Work

Modeled on “Ban the Box” Reforms That Have Taken Hold in 26 States and 150+ Localities

Washington, DC – A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives yesterday introduced bicameral legislation, modeled on reforms that have taken hold in the states, to ensure that job seekers who have a conviction record in their past are not unfairly shut out from employment because of the stigma of a record, but rather, are considered on their qualifications just like any other applicant.

Led by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the introduction of the Fair Chance Act (S.842/H.R.1905) and the REDEEM Act (S.827/H.R.1906) set the stage for Congress to jump-start the debate over how to address the challenging job prospects facing the 70 million adults in the U.S. who have an arrest or conviction record.

“We applaud the sponsors of these strong bills for their leadership in forging a bipartisan consensus, which is what it will take for Congress to cross the finish line and enact fair-chance hiring legislation,” said Maurice Emsellem, director of the National Employment Law Project’s Access and Opportunity Program. “These are federal reforms whose time has come, thanks to the grassroots movement that has taken hold across the states,” said Emsellem. (See NELP’s letters of support, here and here.)

The Fair Chance Act is modeled on “ban the box” legislation that has been embraced by 26 states and more than 150 cities and counties across the country. The bill would require both the federal government and federal contractors to remove the conviction history question from their job applications and defer any background checks to the end of the hiring process.

The Fair Chance Act is sponsored by Senator Booker and co-sponsored by Republican Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). Senator Johnson chairs the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which last year unanimously voted the Fair Chance Act out of committee. In the House, the bill is sponsored by Representative Cummings, ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has jurisdiction over the bill, and fellow committee member Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA).

The REDEEM Act (short for Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act) significantly expands the rights of juveniles and adults to seal and expunge their federal records, thus replicating the bipartisan “clean slate” reforms that states have embraced. Among other key measures, the bill lifts the ban on TANF and SNAP benefits for lower-level drug offenses and requires the FBI to adopt protections ensuring the accuracy of the 17 million FBI rap sheets generated each year for employment screening purposes. In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and co-sponsored by Senator Booker. In the House, the bill is sponsored by Representative Cummings and co-sponsored by Representatives Karen Bass (D-CA), Lacy Clay (D-MO), John Conyers (D-MI), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), and Barbara Lee (D-CA).


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