Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and city commissioners approved the policy “Ban the Box,” with a favorable vote of 3-2, at the City of Tallahassee City Commission meeting on Wednesday.
The policy allowed felons an equal opportunity in employment by exempting questions regarding conviction histories from job applications. It also asks that employers implement hiring processes that allow applicants a reasonable chance to get hired.
Commissioners Gil Ziffer and Scott Maddox voted against the policy. Maddox said people who have a felony and are convicted of a crime “are not a protected class.”
More than 10 people spoke at the city commission meeting in approval of the policy. Among those people was Gregory James, pastor of Life International Church.
James was sentenced to life plus 40 years of federal prison. He testified to being a victim of hiring discrimination.
“I remember volunteering at a Crystal River to work, just to keep from going back to prison,” James said. “No one would hire me so I had to work three days for free to keep from going back.”
Other ex-felons confessed to the hardships of getting a job right after being released from prison.
Debra Jenkins, a Perry, Fla. resident, reminded the commissioners that felons do have skills and qualifications that make them applicable for certain hiring positions, but because of their records, they get disregarded.
“I’m a firm believer in forgiveness,” Jenkins said. “This country is built on biblical principles, but we are straying away from that. Even on the dollar bill it says in God we trust. How are we trusting God when we are discriminating against people getting equal opportunity employment.”
In a final statement before the commission voted, Gillum said city officials should be willing to offer forgiveness.
“If my colleagues are sincere in their statements around recidivism and being willing and open to take people on their second chances, then what is the problem with moving forward?” Gillum said. “There is no legitimate argument of why anyone would be against this on the merits of what was heard tonight.”
With the policy being approved, Leon County becomes part of the 96 cities and counties within 13 states that have accepted the “Ban the Box” policy in some form. In Florida, the following cities have adopted the policy: Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Clearwater and Pompano Beach
The policy applied to City of Tallahassee operations only, and not to businesses or vendors.
To learn more about the policy visit www.talgov.com