A week ago, the Portland City Council heard passionate testimony from employers, employees and out-of-work ex-felons who said a person’s criminal history shouldn’t be used as a screening tool during a job search.

Next Wednesday, Mayor Charlie Hales plans to unveil a refined version his plan that advocates and the mayor say helps level the playing field for ex-offenders. The City Council will hold a first reading and initial discussion on the proposal

Hales embraced the nationwide ban the box movement in his State of the City address in January and as early as last year when the city removed a check box from formal job applications asking whether a candidate had been convicted of a crime.

The bones of the policy remain the same as a draft discussed last week.

Employers, including private businesses with as few as six employees, would be prevented from conducting a background check or asking about a candidate’s criminal history until there’s a conditional job offer on the table. There are exceptions, for law enforcement positions and jobs where a criminal background or the nature of a felony record would affect the candidate’s job qualifications.

But the crux of the plan is to remove what advocates say is a powerful screening tool, essentially an excuse, that employers may use to dismiss an otherwise qualified job candidate.

Hales’ staff and the city attorney’s office are still evaluating and tweaking aspects of the plan, including a controversial provision that would grant the job applicant the right to sue if they feel aggrieved. Hales’ staff says the city is still debating the best way to enforce the proposed rule change.

Who stands to benefit from the plan: ex-felons like Mike D’EPiro.

D’EPiro testified before the City Council last week, saying it’s been “absolutely impossible” to get back into the job force since he was released from prison after serving six years for a robbery conviction.

In 2008, the then 27-year-old D’EPiro was arrested and charged with robbing a Rite Aide pharmacy on Southwest Tualatin Valley Highway and selling OxyContin pills.

He had a job in sales at the time, but was also in the midst of a five-year drug problem when he robbed the pharmacy, slipping a note to the pharmacist that said, “I have a gun, give me all your pain meds.” The note, D’EPiro said, made his a Measure 11 crime.

Since being released in December, 12 businesses rejected D’EPiro outright, he said.

D’EPiro has a job through his family, but he’s ready to get back into sales world and help support his four children. He’s upfront with employers about his past. He just wants to have the chance without checking a box. “I can sell my skills. I know what I’m good at, I know what I’m not good at. If I have the ability to sit down in front of somebody, it’s not too difficult for me to sell myself,” he said.

The box serves as an automatic disqualifier, according to D’EPiro.

If approved, Portland would join San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Baltimore, Columbus, Philadelphia and other cities in adoption a similar proposal.

Portland will discuss the policy in a first reading March 25.

— Andrew Theen
atheen@oregonian.com
503-294-4026
@cityhallwatch

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