Des Moines Register
Published 6:14 PM EST Jan 27, 2020
A Waterloo City Council member says she will try Monday night to persuade the council to rescind a “ban the box” ordinance that would bar employers from asking about criminal convictions on job applications.
Ward 1 Council Member Margaret Klein said she is trying to help the city avoid the cost of fighting litigation filed over the ordinance, but that she doubts other council members will support her motion.
“This thing is going to be voted down,” Klein said. “I’m totally aware of it. … I thought it was worth a chance to at least — at least — pause our lawsuit so that we don’t waste money.”
After the council passed the ordinance in November — the first of its kind in Iowa — the Iowa Association of Business and Industry on Jan. 2 filed a petition for a court injunction blocking the legislation. An attorney for the lobbying group argued that the ordinance is illegal, citing a 2017 law that bans local governments from creating stricter hiring rules for private companies than those spelled out in state law.
Meanwhile. state Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, and state Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, the respective chairs of the state House and Senate judiciary committees, have filed legislation to ban actions such as Waterloo’s that apply to private businesses.
Klein said that, facing such measures, the city should pull back the ordinance, which is scheduled to take effect July 1. But Ward 3 Council Member Patrick Morrissey, who voted for the ordinance in November, said he does not believe Klein’s motion will get the second it needs to for council consideration. He said the council debated the ordinance before adopting it 4-3 in November.
“We talked this and talked this and talked this,” he said. “We amended it and amended it and amended it.”
After former At-Large Council Member Steve Schmitt lost re-election in November and Ward 2 Council Member Bruce Jacobs retired, Klein is the lone “no” voter remaining on the council. Schmitt’s replacement, Dave Boessen, declined to comment on whether he would second Klein’s motion Monday. Jacobs’ replacement, Jonathan Grieder, and Ward 4 council member Jerome Amos Jr., who voted in favor of the ordinance, said they would not.
“Margaret has a right to do what she’ll do,” Amos said. “We’ll just go from there.”
Waterloo City Attorney Martin Petersen said he expects to file a response to the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s lawsuit this week. The association is relying on an Iowa law passed by the Legislature in response to some counties attempting to raise the minimum wage for businesses in their jurisdictions. The lobbying group has argued that when laws vary among local jurisdictions, it puts unfair pressures on businesses in different parts of the state.
Klein and Schmitt have previously told the Des Moines Register they worry the ordinance will push business owners to nearby Cedar Falls.
Waterloo Commission on Human Rights Executive Director Abraham Funchess Jr., who lobbied the city for the ordinance for almost a decade, has previously said banning the box could help alleviate racial disparities in the city. Citing a wide gap in income, unemployment rates and home ownership among white and black residents, 24/7 Wall Street in 2018 named the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro the worst place for black people to live.
After Klein asked last week to place the “ban the box” ordinance back on the agenda, Morrissey said he wondered whether she was attempting to build her brand among the state’s conservatives.
“Is she running for some other office or what?” he asked. “Is the point to make a name for herself?”
In response, Klein said: “No one knows what the future’s going to bring.”
But, she added, Morrissey’s questions feel like an unfair attempt to discredit her.
“I don’t know why he would say that,” she told the Register. “It’s just an effort to devalue my questions.”
Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Register. Contact him at 515-284-8215 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.
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