BOISE, Idaho — UPDATE:
The senate passed the Fair Chance Employment bill 21 to 13 Friday, meaning S.B. 1318 now heads to the House side, where it would need approval from a committee, passage in the full House and the governor’s signature to become law.
An estimated one in five Idaho adults have a previous criminal conviction, according to the ACLU. But Senate Bill 1318, which we've now learned is on its way to the Senate floor, is giving new hope to those Idahoans.
“Because of my criminal history, I was unable to get that job," said Eric Johnson, who testified in favor of the bill.
Johnson was formerly incarcerated in an Idaho prison on assault and drug charges.
"I took on to a criminal lifestyle— some poor choices and whatnot. Well, after my release from prison, I said I wanted to do something better with my life, and contribute to the community,” he said.
Johnson has now been out of prison for more than a year, but he says employers just won’t give him a chance.
“About a week ago, I applied for a job with Door Dash, um, and they ran a check my background and it [brought] up my criminal history, and that absolutely nullified my any chance of getting that job," said Johnson.
This, he says, was his first time testifying. And with his little girl by his side, some said his story showed the generational impacts of employment barriers.
“Just trying to find a job to be able to provide for my family, ya know, just put shoes on their feet and things like that, ya know?”
The Fair Chance Employment Act was sponsored by Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise).
“I don’t believe that it negatively impacts businesses. They still have the right to make the choices that are right for their businesses," said Buckner-Webb.
The bill prohibits employers from asking about criminal records until the applicant is given an interview or conditional offer of employment.
And while the committee motioned unanimously to send the bill to the Senate floor, it didn’t pass without some criticism, particularly from Sen. Patti Anne Lodge (R-Huston).
“What I'd like to do, is just stop crime," said Lodge. "Why do people -- and I'm sorry if I’m offending anybody here -- but why do you commit crime in the first place? Ya know, that’s a choice. And then you come back and want, want individual businesses to make a choice to help you.”
She expressed concerns on how it would impact small businesses that don’t have big HR departments, since they would then have to run their own background check if they wanted to screen a client for their history.
“As a person who’s had a small business, and have family in small businesses, I’m always concerned when there’s another layer of regulation placed upon them," said Lodge.
But ultimately she said reducing recidivism is more important.
“I will vote for this, but I'm asking every single one of you, and anyone else who’s affected by this, to not commit anymore crime," said Lodge.
As the ACLU reports, more than 71% of prison admissions in Idaho in 2017 were for violations of probation or parole.
Seventeen people spoke in favor of the bill and just one spoke against it.
Criminal Justice reform has been a hot-button issue in this session; in his state of the state address, Governor Brad Little spoke of his plans to seek more investments in community reentry centers, where inmates returning to Idaho neighborhoods can learn job and life skills.