“Ban the Box” Bill Unanimously Passes New Mexico House Judiciary Committee

Press Release March 18, 2009
Media Contact

Reena Szczepanski at (505) 699-0798 or Julie Roberts at (505) 310-4592

(Santa Fe) — A bill to “ban the box” on public job applications in New Mexico unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee this morning. SB 459, the Consideration of Criminal History in Hiring bill, sponsored by Senator Clinton Harden (R-Clovis) will remove barriers to employment for people with criminal convictions by removing the question on public job applications asking if a person has ever been convicted of a felony.

The bill will largely impact those individuals with criminal convictions from their youth who still must check the box despite their qualifications for the job or subsequent rehabilitation. Azul La Luz, a resident of Medanales, NM and current director of a large social service organization, was convicted of a felony 40 years ago.

“I’m a current PhD candidate at the University of New Mexico and I have two Masters’ degrees. Despite my education and professional experience, I have never been allowed an interview whenever I’ve had to check the box,” said La Luz, a supporter of the bill. “I used to be a city manager and county administrator, and I would have never gotten an interview for those positions by checking that box. I was given an opportunity and a second chance, and so should every other New Mexican with a criminal conviction.”

The legislation does not prevent employers from asking about conviction status during the interview process and does not restrict employers from conducting background checks on applicants.

Committee members spoke in strong favor of the bill during the hearing. Representative Bill O’Neill (D-Bernalillo County), the executive director of the New Mexico Juvenile Parole Board and previous employee with the Dismas House, an organization that assists people on probation and parole transitioning back into the community, spoke in strong support of the bill.

“It’s not just a job – it is the beginning of a new life,” said Representative O’Neill. “I’ve worked with previous offenders and a job is a very important part of successful reintegration into society.”

Chairman Park also spoke in favor of the legislation and complimented the new Correction Department’s Office of Reentry and Prison Reform, which supports the bill. “The best social program is a job,” said Park at the close of the hearing.

Harden, the sponsor of the legislation, is the former Secretary of Labor under Governor Gary Johnson and runs several businesses in Clovis, NM where he hires people with convictions.

“This bill will help people with convictions get their foot in the door during the hiring process,” said Reena Szczepanski, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico. “An applicant may be fully qualified for a position, but when the hiring manager sees they have a conviction, that application may go directly into the garbage.”

“Our support for this bill is grounded in our commitment to restorative justice and removing as many barriers as possible for people who have completed their sentence and our trying to rebuild their lives,” said Holly Beaumont, legislative advocate for the New Mexico Conference of Churches. Other organizations supporting the bill include Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of New Mexico, the Women’s Justice Project, and the New Mexico Corrections Department’s Office of Reentry and Prison Reform.

The bill is receiving national media coverage and momentum is building in support of the legislation as it heads to the House floor for final passage

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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