Tomlinson: 'Ban the box' bill bad news for college students

With the 2018 legislative session now underway, one may have missed the passage of one of the most controversial bills in recent memory. Unfortunately, between the local media’s fascination with whether students in our public schools can dress like cousins Bo and Luke Duke, or the national media’s obsession over President Trump using or not using an eight-letter word to describe a Caribbean nation, the press failed to properly highlight the overriding of Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of House Bill 694 and Senate Bill 543.

HB694/SB543 is the Maryland Fair Access to Education Act of 2017, or as it more commonly referred to as, the “Ban the Box” bill. As stated on the bill’s Department of Legislative Services’ Fiscal & Policy Note, “This bill generally prohibits an institution of higher education that receives state funds from using an undergraduate admissions application that contains questions about the criminal history of the applicant.”


The bill does exactly what it says. It removes the box from a college admissions application that asks potential students if they have ever been arrested or been convicted of a crime.

HB694/SB543 was passed by the General Assembly during the 2017 session. When the bill hit the governor’s desk on May 26, 2017, he vetoed it, as anyone with common sense would do. On Jan. 11, the second day of the 2018 session, the House of Delegates overturned the veto, and the Senate followed suit the following day, making the bill the law on Jan. 12.

The bill was designed to help Marylanders with a criminal history get back on their feet and get a college education. A 2010 study by the Center for Community Alternatives showed that an overwhelming number of potential applicants choose not to apply to college fearing that their criminal record will result in them being denied. There is no doubt that allowing individuals who may have had a few hiccups along the way to enroll in college and earn an education is a great way for someone to get back on track.

I am all for helping criminals turn their lives back around. The governor feels the same way. In 2015, he was proud to sign the “Second Chance Act” and in 2016, he was honored to sign the “Justice Reinvestment Act.” Both bills now help Marylanders with criminal backgrounds move on from their pasts and accomplish great things.

However, allowing someone to enroll in college with an arrest for underage drinking or a misdemeanor for marijuana possession is completely different from admitting convicted felons who have been convicted of domestic violence or sexual assault. Therein lies the primary problem of HB694/SB543. The bill does not differentiate between violent and non-violent criminals, nor does it separate a felony from a misdemeanor. The bill treats all arrests and convictions the same. On the House floor on Jan. 11, Del. Haven Shoemaker argued that, “The bill shields all crimes from its application including murder, rape, sexual predatory crimes and crime of violence.”

Every day, we see that colleges are taking steps to take sexual assaults and rapes seriously. We see the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns gaining momentum. In a world where we are empowering women and refusing to put blindfolds on when it comes to sexual harassment and assault, how does it make a lick of sense to pass a bill allowing convicted rapists to lawfully creep through college campuses and attend classes with young women? Gov. Hogan said in his veto letter that “parents have an expectation that the schools to which they entrust their child will do everything possible to keep its students safe.” This bill throws that trust right out the window.

Maryland became only the second state in the nation to pass “Ban the Box” legislation. Furthermore, this will change the application process for at least 11 Maryland colleges who receive state funding, including our largest state universities. The bill could have been amended and reshaped to help criminals without hurting the innocent, but the Democrats in Annapolis refused to play ball. As Shoemaker stated on the House floor, “This bill puts criminal coddling over the safety of our college students, plain and simple.”