Under a proposal being revisited by Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, employers in Wisconsin could no longer consider a job applicant's conviction record before offering an interview. That announcement came the same day Republican lawmakers released a draft of legislation overhauling the state's civil service system, which includes its own "ban the box" provision.
The "ban the box" initiative has been proposed several times in Wisconsin, but has never gained traction. Taylor is tying her renewed push to a bipartisan "ban the box" effort working its way through Congress, thanks in part to Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.
"We have an opportunity in Wisconsin, like many other states already do, to give residents who have made a mistake in life a fighting chance with Ban the Box. Most other states surrounding Wisconsin have some variation of 'Ban the Box,' including Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois," Taylor said in a statement. "Banning the box is not a cure-all to the problems faced by those with a felony record. However, it will increase job opportunities for a population that struggles to move beyond their mistakes in an effort to fully reintegrate into society. As legislators we should work to remove barriers to employment for those seeking to re-enter the workforce."
Taylor said she hopes to work with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to move the bill forward.
A spokesman for Taylor said the bill draft isn't finished yet. According to a previous version of the bill, employers would still be allowed to notify job applicants that someone with a particular conviction record might be disqualified by law or the employers' policies from employment in some positions.
Taylor announced her renewed effort the same day Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, and Rep. Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, released a draft of their proposal to change the state's civil service system. Included in that proposal is a "ban the box" provision.
"Unless a certain conviction record disqualifies applicants from a civil service position, this bill prohibits the director of the bureau from asking an applicant on an application, or otherwise, to supply information about the applicant’s conviction record before the applicant is certified for the position," according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau.
Dane County has implemented a "ban the box" initiative for its own hiring practices, and the City of Madison has discussed doing the same.
In Congress, Johnson joined Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Reps. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Maryland, and Darrell Issa, R-California, this month on a bill that would ban the federal government and its contractors from initially inquiring about applicants' convictions. Under the bill, an employer could ask once an applicant was conditionally offered a job.
"What has struck me most is how challenging we make it for those who truly want to turn their lives around," Johnson told WisPolitics. "If someone getting out of prison wants to work, wants to be a productive member of society, we should do everything we can to facilitate that."