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Booker, Republicans introduce federal ban-the-box legislation

A little more than a year after Philadelphia expanded its ban-the-box law, which prevents employers from asking about criminal backgrounds until a job offer has been made, federal legislators introduced a similar bill.

A little more than a year after Philadelphia expanded its ban-the-box law, which prevents employers from asking about a criminal background until a job offer has been made, lawmakers on Wednesday introduced similar national legislation in Washington.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) was a lead sponsor of the Fair Chance Act, Senate Bill 842. It and its House equivalent, H.B. 1905, would require the federal government and federal contractors to remove from job applications the box that candidates for employment must check if they have a criminal background.

Government agencies and contractors would have to defer a background check until a job offer  were made, unless a criminal check were required by law for a particular positions.

Booker was also lead sponsor of the related Redeem Act, Senate Bill 827, which would seal certain criminal records. Also, under the bill and its equivalent, House Bill 1906, people with criminal records for drug convictions who now are not eligible for certain welfare and food-stamp benefits could receive them.

In many ways, the Redeem Act is similar to "Clean Slate" legislation that likely will be introduced in Pennsylvania, a bipartisan group of legislators said at a March news conference. Supporting it is State Sen. Scott Wagner, a Republican from York County and a potential rival to Gov. Wolf, who has pledged to sign the legislation.

"You have to give people the opportunity for success," said Reuben Jones, 52, of Philadelphia, who applauded the federal legislation.

Founder of Change the Hustle, a Philadelphia organization that teaches former inmates how to be entrepreneurs, Jones said that when he got out of prison in 2002 after serving a 15-year term for robbery and aggravated assault, he found it difficult to get work.

Besides Booker, the Fair Chance Act was cosponsored by Sens. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), Rob Portman (R., Ohio), and Joni Ernst (R., Iowa). In the House, Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) and Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) are cosponsors.

The Redeem Act, which stands for Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act, was cosponsored by Booker and Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.). In the House, Cummings and other Democrats are cosponsors.

Applauding Booker and others for forging a bipartisan coalition to enact "fair-chance hiring legislation," Maurice Emsellem, director of the National Employment Law Project's Access and Opportunity Program, said, "These are federal reforms whose time has come."

A statement from the group said an estimated 70 million U.S. adults have arrest or conviction records.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which often takes positions on employment matters, did not respond to a request for comment.