Second chance for felons: Matt's Memo

Matt Mulcahy.

The remedy to all problems is not a new law. The Syracuse Common Council will discuss an attempt to open new job opportunities to people who have a past criminal record and are looking for a fresh start. A new local law would make it illegal for businesses to ask on a job application whether a potential employee has had a past felony conviction. It would also prohibit asking about a past felony during a job interview. The proposal by Syracuse Common Councilor Jean Kessner will get some attention at City Hall Wednesday.

Kessner's proposal does allow the employer to ask the question once making a job offer. Her goal is to create a second chance for people who have redeemed themselves after past mistakes. Who could argue with her intention? It is reasonable that a man or woman who had a past offense that is truly in the past would have a chance to make something of their lives. Kessner wants them to be able to get in the door for an interview before being blocked by a criminal history.

Making this a mandate for businesses is a step too far. If an employer sees qualities in an applicant that present effectively the employer is welcome to pursue the job candidate. The business can make its own choice on whether that long ago offense is relevant today. Prohibiting the business from asking the question would be an unnecessary hindrance on the hiring process.

The law has progressed and should continue to evolve when it comes to discrimination based on race, color, creed and sexual identity. These are all qualities of individuals where they have had no choice. A criminal record is another story.

Businesses should be encouraged to look past a criminal history, but they should not be forced to be kept in the dark about who the full picture of the person.

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