Des Moines Register
Published 1:09 PM EST Jan 5, 2020
A business lobbying group is trying to halt Waterloo’s new ordinance that is supposed to help convicted felons find work.
The Iowa Association of Business and Industry filed a petition for injunctive relief against the city in Black Hawk District Court on Friday, arguing cities don’t have the authority to pass laws like Waterloo’s. The “ban the box” ordinance prevents companies from including a question on applications about whether prospective employees have been convicted of crimes.
But in its petition, the ABI points to a 2017 Iowa law that bans cities and counties from passing some business-related ordinances. The local governments can’t pre-empt federal or state rules about business practices like benefits and hiring practices. The Legislature passed the law because some county officials — including those in Polk County — wanted to raise the minimum wage.
Waterloo Ward 1 City Councilwoman Margaret Klein, who voted against the “ban the box” ordinance two months ago, expected the lawsuit. She and other council members opposed the proposal because they believe it will drive businesses to neighboring communities.
“This clearly goes beyond what the state asks,” she said. “We said ‘Right there, this is an invitation to a lawsuit. And Waterloo certainly doesn’t need more lawsuits.’ It’s honestly one of the biggest wastes of taxpayer money. My money. Your money. They knew that going in.”
Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Morrissey, a supporter of the ordinance, had not seen the ABI’s petition when contacted by the Des Moines Register on Saturday evening. He hopes the Iowa Legislature follows Waterloo’s lead and passes a “ban the box” bill this session.
Even so, he doesn’t think the state’s 2017 law applies here.
“I believe in local control, totally,” he said. “We’ve got a Legislature now that’s trying to pre-empt local control, take it over from us. We’ll see where the district court is at, even if they want to deal with it.”
The city has 20 days to respond to the ABI’s petition. Mayor Quentin Hart, a supporter of the ordinance, said he could not discuss the pending litigation Saturday night. At-large City Councilwoman Sharon Juon said she and the other elected officials would discuss the lawsuit in executive session at Monday night’s meeting.
The Rev. Abraham Funchess Jr., Waterloo’s Human Rights Commission executive director, has advocated for this ordinance for about a decade. However, a majority of the city council was not interested until last year.
In 2018, 24/7 Wall Street published a report arguing that the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro was the worst place in America for black people, saying local black unemployment was much higher than that of white unemployment. With a 16% black population, Waterloo is more diverse than Iowa as a whole. Iowa’s overall black population is 4%.
The report offended some in the community, Funchess said. They didn’t like an outside group giving the area a bad reputation. But, he added, the report motivated some to try to alleviate the disparity. Supporters for the “ban the box” ordinance finally had the votes on the council to pass the initiative.
As the council debated the ordinance last fall, an attorney for ABI wrote them on Oct. 14, warning that it could challenge “ban the box” in court. (Nonetheless, the council passed the ordinance, 4-3, on Nov. 4. It is scheduled to take effect July 1.)
“Waterloo’s new ordinance exceeds State requirements, adding a new protected class (applicants with criminal histories) and places additional limits on employers’ hiring practices,” attorney Ryan Koopmans wrote. “The criminal-history ordinance is therefore unenforceable.”
Waterloo’s ordinance does not only ban questions about criminal records on job applications. It also restricts employers from asking applicants similar questions during interviews.
Companies also would not be able to reject applicants because of arrests and convictions that have since been expunged. Employers can decline to hire applicants for their arrest records — assuming this is a “legitimate business reason.” Funchess and other supporters of the ordinance planned to train local companies about what constituted a “legitimate business reason” during training sessions this spring.
Waterloo’s effort comes at a time when Gov. Kim Reynolds has encouraged companies to hire more previously incarcerated inmates. A task force she appointed released policy recommendations in December, including a proposal to “ban the box” for public sector jobs in Iowa. Unlike the Waterloo proposal, the task force’s recommendations does not apply to private companies.
State Rep. Ras Smith, D-Black Hawk County, told the Register on Saturday that he plans to introduce a “ban the box” bill this session. He will start with language that applies to private companies. But, he added, he’s open to compromise with Republican leaders.
“In theory, I love that,” he said of a bill that applies to private employers. “That’s something we should be pushing for. That should be our goal. If I’m thinking what I can practicality passed, legislatively, I think it’s OK to start with public entities. I think that’s something that’s OK. I’ll take the step forward.”
Tyler Jett covers jobs and the economy for the Register. Contact him at 515-284-8215 and email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.
Your support makes work like this possible. Subscribe at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.
Let’s block ads! (Why?)