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Two More Bills to Support Hiring Ex-Convicts

January 17, 2014

By: Joe DeSantis SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Last week a bipartisan group of legislators in Michigan’s House of Representatives introduced two bills designed to make it less risky for employers to hire former prisoners.

On January 9, Rep. Klint Kesto, a Republican, introduced HB 5216.  The bill, if enacted into law, would empower the state Department of Corrections to “… award a Certificate of Employability to a prisoner if the Department determines the prisoner is a suitable candidate for employment upon his or her release.” In determining whether or not to issue the certificate, the department must “consider” the prisoner’s criminal and subsequent institutional history. The latter would include the following:

  • Any misconduct while incarcerated
  • The completion of (or failure to complete) any counseling  program provided by the system
  • Whether the prisoner has attained a GED or other credential while incarcerated
  • The prisoner’s job skills and work record while incarcerated
  • “Other factors” it considers relevant

On the same day, Rep. John Walsh, also a Republican, introduced  HB 5217. This bill would protect employers who hire ex-prisoners who hold Certificates of Employ-ability from liability for negligent hiring in certain criminal or civil actions against the ex-prisoner/employee.

A third bill, HR 5218, provides similar protections to professional licensing boards considering ex-prisoners who apply for professional licenses or certifications.

All three bills were immediately referred to the House Committee on Commerce, where they currently reside. That committee is headed by Rep. Frank Foster, also a Republican. A “Ban-the-Box” bill, introduced last fall (and reported on in everythingpeople.™ This Week!) also remains in that committee.

The question, of course, is whether any or all of these bills will ever become law in Michigan. But as we all know, politics reign supreme in Lansing. It is worth pointing out that last fall’s Ban-the-Box bill was introduced by a Democrat and co-sponsored by nine other Democrats but no Republicans. It now sits in a committee presided over by a Republican, who controls the committee’s agenda and therefore decides which bills come up for consideration and which ones never see the light of day. All other considerations aside, the Ban-the-Box bill has clearly faced a steep upward climb from the very beginning, to put it charitably. It is no surprise that it has gotten nowhere.

On the other hand, both 5216 and 5217 were introduced by Republicans. The former was sponsored by four Republicans and one Democrat, and the latter by three Republicans and one Democrat. Further, two of the Republican co-sponsors of both bills have very strong business credentials: according to their official biographies, Mike Shirkey owns an engineering company in Jackson, and Joe Haveman is a former executive of a construction company in Holland and head of the Holland Home Builders Association. On that basis alone, these two bills would appear to have far brighter prospects for passage than Ban-the-Box.

Further still, one of the objections to Ban-the-Box is that it is fundamentally coercive—it imposes restrictions on employers’ recruiting, screening and hiring practices. Several business groups in the state expressed strong opposition to the Ban-the-Box concept because it forces employers to abandon what they regard as a first line of defense in candidate screening, while still leaving them potentially liable for the subsequent misdeeds of ex-prisoners whom they hire. One group specifically urged the legislature to come up with something that would incentivize businesses to hire ex-prisoners while protecting those businesses from such liability.  HBs 5216 and 5217 appear to address the latter concern exactly.

As usual, time and developments will tell. And, it is worth repeating, politics rule in Lansing. ASE will follow the progress, if any, of these bills and report on developments as they occur.

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