The "ban the box" bill that would prohibit criminal-history questions on most job applications passed City Council on Thursday, potentially giving ex-offenders a better shot at finding work.

Mayor Nutter plans to sign the bill, which passed by 13-4.

Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, the sponsor, said the legislation was fair to businesses while "further breaking down the reentry barriers" for ex-offenders.

"Everyone deserves a second chance," she said.

Council also passed a resolution that would create a "suspension calendar," where legislation languishing on final reading could be placed.

The calendar likely will curb the amount of public comment at Council meetings, because speakers are allowed to discuss only matters up for final passage.

Council President Anna C. Verna described the move as a housekeeping matter and rebuffed suggestions that she was trying to limit public comment, which can add more than an hour to meetings.

She referred instead to a package of gun-control bills that has sat on the final-passage calendar for two years with no movement in sight.

"It's ridiculous to keep them on the calendar," she said. "It doesn't have anything to do with public speaking."

Whatever the intent, the suspension calendar will reduce the number of bills the public can address each week.

On Thursday, for example, nearly all of the speakers came to discuss a hotly debated bill that would require businesses to give employees paid sick leave.

The bill was moved to the suspension calendar, meaning neither side will be permitted to speak on the subject at next week's meeting.

The business community has stood in solid opposition, saying paid sick leave would be an unnecessary burden on small businesses.

Councilman William Greenlee, one of the co-sponsors, promised to craft a "fair and equitable" paid sick leave bill in the near future.

"This bill is not going to go away," he said.

There was comparatively little business opposition to "ban the box," so named for the check box asking job applicants whether they have been convicted of a crime.

Supporters believe the box is used for blanket discrimination of ex-offenders, who are much less likely to commit another crime if employed.

Under the bill, employers would not be allowed to ask job candidates about arrests that did not end in convictions or inquire into criminal history before a first interview.

The belief, Miller said, is that many ex-offenders could find work if given an interview and a chance to make an impression. About one-fifth of the city's population has a criminal record, according to an estimate cited in the bill.

Criminal justice employers and others offering certain jobs - such as child care - are required by law to conduct background checks and are exempted in the bill.

Council members Jack Kelly, Joan Krajewski, Brian O'Neill, and Frank Rizzo voted against the measure.

Councilman James Kenney spoke in favor, making his point with the parable of the prodigal son.

"I think this bill and what it's trying to do will change lives," Kenney said. "Because you cannot be found again and you cannot come alive again unless you have the opportunity to work, honest and dignified work."

Contact staff writer Troy Graham at 215-854-2730 or tgraham@phillynews.com.