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‘Ban the box’ proposal passes Senate

Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque

SANTA FE — Private employers in New Mexico couldn’t ask job-seekers about their criminal history on an initial application under legislation approved by the Senate on Friday.

The proposal, Senate Bill 96, now heads to the House for consideration.

It would allow employers to make clear in an advertisement that they will conduct a background check or that a conviction could disqualify them from employment.

And they could ask applicants about any history of arrests or convictions later in the hiring process, just not on the initial application.

An applicant who believes an employer has violated the law could file a grievance under the state Human Rights Act — a process designed to allow the business and applicant resolve the issue without going to court, supporter said.

“We need to have some enforcement mechanism that isn’t draconian — that doesn’t invite lawsuits,” said Sen. Bill O’Neill, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill.

Democratic Sens. Jacob Candelaria and Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, both of Albuquerque, also worked on the legislation, winning approval of amendments before the bill was passed.

Sedillo Lopez, for example, said it was important to ensure employers can notify applicants ahead of time that a criminal history might prohibit them from getting the job. She said she used to run an anti-domestic violence agency, where people convicted of certain crimes couldn’t work.

Opponents of the bill said they feared employers could face lengthy, costly investigations if a felon unsuccessfully applied for a job and decided to file a complaint.

The proposal passed on a 28-11 vote, with all dissenting votes coming from Republicans.

The legislation is informally known as the “ban-the-box” bill. It’s co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Alonzo Baldonado of Los Lunas.


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