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Snyder urges employers to nix criminal convictions from job apps

Gov. Rick Snyder signed an executive directive Friday barring state job applications from including a check box for past felony convictions and urged private employers to do the same. The governor, who leaves office at year's end, also directed the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to remove the criminal history questions from applications for state-issued licenses that don't require such inquiries under state law. But Snyder stopped short of calling for the Republican-controlled Legislature to join the 32 other states that have "banned the box" on job applications employers use to screen out applicants. "I'm starting with this," Snyder said Friday at a talent-attraction event at Lear Corp.'s downtown Detroit innovation center. "I'm hoping to show what we can do and I'm hoping to get a good response from the private sector and other jurisdictions that want to do that." "Because if we build momentum, that really opens up the opportunity to say should we talk about legislation," the Republican governor added. "I'm encouraging every private employer, every public employer out there to join me in this effort." With a crimped labor market, some employers in Michigan have removed the criminal conviction checkbox as a way to get more applicants for jobs, particularly in the skilled trades. Legislation sponsored by Democrats to ban criminal conviction checkboxes on job applications has died on the legislative vine in every year Snyder and his fellow Republicans have controlled state government. Earlier this year, Snyder signed Republican-authored legislation that was seen as a pre-emptive strike against cities and counties adopting local ordinances that regulate what employers can ask on job applications, including criminal histories. Advocates said the legislation was meant to ensure an even set of regulations for businesses across the state. But critics decried the law as a setback for a growing national movement among employers who are reconsidering their past practices of automatically turning away felons for jobs. In 2010, Detroit City Council passed a "ban the box" ordinance. More than 150 cities and counties have passed laws or regulations prohibiting the felony conviction checkbox on job applications, according to the National Employment Law Project. Last year, Snyder signed a law that lifted the prohibition on the Department of Corrections hiring individuals previously convicted of crimes. Under Snyder's directive, the criminal history checkbox will be replaced on job applications with an "affirmation of good character statement," according to the governor's office. The governor's order does not apply to the attorney general's or secretary of state's offices because they are controlled by constitutionally autonomous statewide officers. Snyder said the state departments will still conduct criminal background checks on prospective employees. "Whether you were in a correctional institution or not, you should have questions asked about your background — that's a normal part of the process," Snyder told reporters. "But it shouldn't be the first question and it shouldn't set up in a way that would discourage you or keep you from having the opportunity to participate in that employment process."