Much attention was given to Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s public signing of a law Monday that will ban gender discrimination in the setting of individual insurance rates. But it was a little-known bill that he signed in private that might have an even bigger impact on the business community.
House Bill 1023, sponsored by Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, prohibits an employee’s criminal history from being part of a lawsuit against a business unless that criminal history has direct applicability to the legal action. Legislators thought so highly of a measure that could lead more businesses to offer jobs to prior felons that not a single one of them voted against it.
The bill came from the interim Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force, of which Waller was a member and served as chairman for the economic development and job creation subcommittee. It was there that he learned businesses often won’t hire people with criminal records, no matter how long they’ve been clean or how unrelated those histories are to the jobs for which they’re applying, for fear of getting sued if that worker does anything wrong.
To use Waller’s example, if a business now hires a released felon to wash windows and that employee gets into a fight with someone walking down the street, the victim can sue the business, saying it was negligent in hiring someone who could be a danger to the public. Never mind that the felony might have been corporate tax evasion; the onus still rests on the business’ head when it comes to prior felons.
This, as you might guess, left a lot of people looking for second chances with even less willing takers and made businesses leery of hiring someone who otherwise might be a good fit. And Waller wanted to give prior felons a chance while protecting businesses from lawsuits.
So, HB 1023 prohibits information concerning a criminal’s history from being introduced in civil actions if the employee’s record is sealed, the employee got a pardon, the criminal history isn’t related to the facts of the case or the employee’s record is from an arrest or charge that did not result in a criminal conviction. Even Ritter, a former prosecutor, could see the merits in that.
This doesn’t let a business off the hook if, say, one were to hire someone convicted of breaking and entering to install alarms in homes and that employee then turns around and robs one of those homes. That actually would be negligent hiring by the business, Waller said.
But it could have at least a small impact both on the high unemployment rate and on businesses who have been hit by the recession and are looking for any financial reason — such as fear of a lawsuit — not to hire, Waller said.
“If we can protect business owners who are willing to take a chance on these guys, we should do that,” Waller said. “In these times when we haven’t done much for business, any little thing we can do for business is a good thing.”
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010