Advocacy groups are working with local officials to realize a new ordinance aimed at the city's hiring practice changes, known as "ban the box."
All over the United States, people are rethinking the tough-on-crime policies that block people from opportunities.
Kansas City Councilman Jermaine Reed is leading the movement. He is sponsoring the city ordinance that would eliminate the box people must check on applications for city employment that ask if the applicant has committed a felony or misdemeanor.
"It is about time for us to ban the box right here in Kansas City," Reed said.
Reed said 42 other cities across the country have already done "ban the box."
Now he is sponsoring the city ordinance that would eliminate the box.
Reed said the new ordinance only applies to city jobs, and potential hires still have to go through a background check later in the hiring process. But eliminating the box allows them to at least get an interview.
"At the end of the day, the reality of it is background checks still will continue. No ifs or buts about that. Background checks will continue and staff will review that and make the right decision at the end of the day," he said.
"Everyone knows someone with a misdemeanor or a felony, and I would ask for you to think of that person and ask whether or not they should be denied an opportunity to just have a simple interview. I am about as hard on violent crime as anyone can be because my family has been victims," Councilman John Sharp said.
Sharp said his own step-daughter was murdered, and he supports the ordinance because he believes it is a way to cut crime by giving ex-offenders a chance to find work instead of committing more crime.
"They are going to have a choice to make when they do get out of incarceration; either try to take a right path or go back to their old ways. And if we won't even give people an interview, if we won't give them a second chance, what can we expect them to do," Sharp said.
Several members of the faith community spoke out in favor of the ordinance.
"We are glad the city council taking this step to eliminate this barrier. This is best way to reduce recidivism," supporter Damion Daniel said.
Supporter Deborah Neal believes implementing the policy is the right thing to do and promotes fairness in employment.
"So I ask you, if you had to put the worst thing you ever did on an application, would you get the job? We are asking simply that people disclose their criminal history later in the process and get everyone a fair chance to prove their worth before they have to tell the worst thing they ever did," supporter Lora McDonald said.
A joint committee, including the City Council's public safety and finance committees, voted on the issue Wednesday morning.
There were several people who showed up to the committee hearing Wednesday who said they are tired of their past keeping them from getting a job.
"Tomorrow will be the five-year anniversary of my release from incarceration from the Missouri Department of Corrections. I have not been employed since that time," supporter Keith Brown said
"When I go to a job and I fill out an application, I'm feeling great. I can hustle my way there. I'm feeling good. Then I get to that box and I get discouraged," supporter Dwayne Martin said.
While Reed is sponsoring the ordinance to remove the box from applications for city jobs, Councilman Scott Taylor voted against the proposal and said he worries about public safety.
"As a city, we are different than some of the jobs in the private sector. We have a lot of jobs that are public positions where employees are working directly with citizens, seniors and children. I just think we need to be very careful," Taylor said.
But Christopher Bowers, who served time for a crime he committed at age 17, said he and many others simply want to get a fair shot at an interview to prove they have changed.
"It's not who you are. My past is a mistake I made and I have grown from that. I have learned and become a more productive citizen and I would like to have a second chance," he said.
The ordinance passed out of committee Wednesday, and now the full City Council will get to weigh in on the issue at their meeting next Thursday.
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