Waterloo moves closer to 'banning the box'

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KCRG) - City council members in Waterloo believe they're setting the city's future with a vote on an ordinance that would "ban the box."

The Waterloo City Council passed the second reading of a "ban the box" ordinance on Sept. 3, 2019. (Mary Green/KCRG)

The ordinance would prohibit businesses from asking applicants about their criminal history until after they’ve been given a conditional offer of employment. Then the employer wouldn’t be allowed to rescind that offer based solely off that criminal record unless they had a legitimate business reason.

The ordinance passed its second of three readings on Tuesday in a close 4-3 vote. In its first reading, it passed in a 5-2 vote. It will need to pass three readings before it goes into effect.

Linn and Johnson County have set the same standard for people applying for jobs only within the county government. Waterloo’s would apply to both people applying for jobs in the city government and in private businesses. Private and public schools, along with state and federal government jobs, would be excluded.

Some Waterloo residents told council members this would give people a second chance.

“There’s a stigma associated with people that have been incarcerated,” Denita Gadson said.

Others said the way it is written could hurt businesses.

“I really don’t need to hire a child molester or a sex offender to work in a Dairy Queen,” Don Share said.

Share added that he does not ask about criminal histories in job applications at his business, though he said it could come up later in interviews.

Waterloo would be the first city in the state to apply this type of ordinance to private businesses.

“I really feel this would be much better held back, and let the state do it, rather than just the City of Waterloo,” Forest Dillavou told council members.

The city council was split in much the same way.

Three were against it, with Margaret Klein saying waiting until the end of the process is too late to ask that question.

“There should be no gag order on any of the interview,” Klein said.

Bruce Jacobs said he was worried it could keep businesses from coming to Waterloo since they won’t be held by the same restrictions in other cities.

“This opens a whole can of worms for these businesses that might just as easily go to our neighbor to the west,” Jacobs said.

Some of its supporters said “banning the box” addresses a civil rights issue.

“It’s a conditional offer of employment,” Patrick Morrissey said. “It’s not an unconditional offer of employment. This says, there’s conditions to this, and now I ask you this question. It gives a fair chance.”

“There’s a lot of concerns out here as far as the impact that it’s going to have. Well from everything that I see, that impact would be minimal, so for me, I will be supporting this ordinance,” said Jerome Amos, referencing the rights businesses have in Iowa as a right-to-work state.

The third and final vote on this ordinance is scheduled for the Sept. 9 city council meeting.