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'Ban the box' law is a modest first step [Letter]

Laws and LegislationFeminismDiscriminationPersonal IncomeSame-Sex Marriage

We're pleased that Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby's measure to address the employment discrimination faced by ex-offenders is moving toward a final vote later this month ("'Ban the box' bill advances over opposition from businesses," April 7).

The "ban the box" bill represents an important shift in policy that will give job applicants a chance to explain past offenses and better compete on their own merits.

Yet we're alarmed by the nature of the arguments that are being advanced against the bill, which have been delivered with a vehemence that is seemingly disproportionate to the legislation's modest aims.

The objections boil down to three: First, that the bill is "bad for business;" second, that there's not enough data to show its effectiveness; and finally, that it doesn't go far enough.

These arguments are so easily refuted as to make us question their real purpose. In the 10 states and 60 jurisdictions that already have "ban the box" laws (including the public sector in Baltimore), the results have been positive or neutral at worst. And all legislative progress in our democracy is decidedly incremental.

It's curious that these same three arguments have been used to oppose progress against a range of discriminatory practices throughout history. We heard them leading up to Maryland's recent recognition of marriage equality. We hear them in historical news coverage as we mark this year's 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Even opponents of women's suffrage advanced similar claims.

The reality isn't in dispute: People with past criminal convictions face discrimination when re-entering the workforce. In Baltimore City, the majority of those facing such discrimination are low-income people of color.

Without question, there are broader and deeper policies, programs and conversations we need to have in order to successfully re-integrate people into the community who have paid their debt to society. But a simple "ban the box" law is a pretty good place to start.

Kevin Lindamood, Baltimore

The writer is president & CEO of Health Care for the Homeless.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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