SF businesses could ‘ban the box’ on ex-felon identifications

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Following the lead of other cities like Seattle and Richmond, Calif., San Francisco employers could soon be prohibited from asking in job applications if prospective employees were ever convicted of a felony, under legislation expected to be introduced jointly today by Supervisors Malia Cohen and Jane Kim.

The proposal builds on a national effort commonly referred to as “ban the box,” a growing trend in states and cities for both public and private employers.

The criminal records of ex-felons would also be off-limits for below-market-rate housing applications under the legislation being called the “Fair Chance” ordinance, of which additional details are expected to be unveiled today.

Kim, who represents the Tenderloin and South of Market areas, and Cohen, whose district includes Bayview-Hunters Point, serve areas in The City where ex-felons are more prevalent. The effort builds on a changing tide in the criminal system to focus on restorative justice, such as rehabilitation, by lifting barriers to secure employment or housing — two situations that officials say could help ex-felons break their cycle of violence.

San Francisco city government currently “bans the box,” and in October, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a state bill that bans government employers from asking applicants about their criminal records until later in the hiring process.

On Nov. 1, Seattle became the third major city to expand “ban the box” to private employers. In 2011, Philadelphia was the first major U.S. city to enact such a provision for businesses with 10 or more workers.

Two years ago, the Board of Supervisors debated another initiative to help ex-felons find work: a tax break for companies who hire them. But that was defeated in a 6-5 vote.

The proposed legislation comes as unemployment in The City has dropped to 5.3 percent, but much anxiety remains about the rising rents and cost of living in San Francisco, especially for lower-income communities and more vulnerable populations like ex-offenders.

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