The Dallas City Council is considering an ordinance that would prohibit private employers in the city from asking job seekers about criminal history on initial applications. Background checks would be allowed later in the hiring process.
The ordinance would apply to all private businesses with 15 or more employees, and be accompanied by fines for non-compliance.
However, the mandate would not apply to the City of Dallas itself, though it already has this policy for hiring many of its city workers. Still, criminal history is an immediate rejection for some positions, like in the police department.
The City of DeSoto has a similar law in place for private businesses. The DeSoto Chamber of Commerce has pushed for the ordinance to pass in Dallas.
Big Tony’s Cheese Steak restaurant on Hampton Road in DeSoto follows the rule, and workers who spoke at the council Monday expressed their support for the ordinance.
“Some crimes may be worse than others, but everyone deserves a chance to redeem themselves, I personally believe. And I personally haven’t been affected by it, but I know others who have, and I think they really do deserve that chance,” employee Jamereian Fininen said.
“Everyone deserves that chance to better themselves, so it should be the law,” Fininen added.
Formerly incarcerated people have a substantially higher unemployment rate than the general population. On average, formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a 27% rate, according to 2018 research by the Prison Policy Institute.
That rate has potentially worsened since the pandemic, when the general unemployment rate spiked to 15% in April 2020. However, no updated data on unemployment for formerly incarcerated people have been released.
“If you compare it to the general population of America, it would be higher than anything we experienced since the Great Depression,” said Wanda Bertram, communications strategist with the Prison Policy Institute.
Dallas City Council members discussing the plan Monday shared how their backgrounds shape their views on the ordinance.
Councilmember Chad West said he owns car wash businesses.
“As a business owner, I’m still going to want to know before I hire somebody if they have a criminal history or not and what that is,” West said. “I think I have a duty to my company, my investors, my customers, and other employees to just vet everybody out.”
Still, the council was not ready for the final vote on the ordinance.
Councilmember Paula Blackmon argued the proposed $500 fine for violators of the ordinance would not be enough to ensure compliance.
“It is the details and the wording that matter. I just feel this is the first of good conversation,” Blackmon said.
Some variation of a “Fair Chance” ordinance is in effect in 150 cities and counties and 37 states around the U.S. In Texas, Austin also has a Fair Chance law that covers private businesses, which was implemented in April 2017.
The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce opposed the ordinance before its passing.
Unless data can confirm the ordinance is reducing unemployment among people with criminal histories, it is not worth the burden on businesses to comply, according to the Austin chamber’s Senior Vice President of Advocacy Drew Scheberle.