Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Friday signed an executive order that removes the requirement that prospective workers indicate on their applications for state employment whether they have been convicted of a crime.
“It’s all about forgiveness and giving people second chances,” said McAuliffe, reminding a receptive audience at the Goodwill Industries employment center in Midlothian that it was the Lenten season as he signed Executive Order 41 to “ban the box.”
“Show me somebody who hasn’t made a mistake.”
The order will remove the box on state employment applications that applicants were required to check if they had been convicted of a crime. Officials said it created an unnecessary barrier to employment that eliminated many qualified workers from progressing past the initial stages of applying for a job.
According to the administration, the National Employment Law Project estimates 70 million American adults have arrests or convictions in their past that can make it difficult to obtain employment.
Virginia is the 15th state to implement some form of a “ban-the-box” policy. Fourteen Virginia cities and localities have adopted their own version in government employment.
“That box did so much damage to folks and their job opportunities,” said McAuliffe, before signing the order. “That little box is no more.”
Since taking office 15 months ago, the governor and Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney have prioritized the expedited restoration of civil and voting rights to previously convicted nonviolent offenders.
Stoney, who is rumored to be considering a 2016 run for Richmond mayor, said that as of Friday, the administration had restored rights to 6,501 felons — more than any previous governor at this point in their four-year term.
The order to ban the box is another example of the governor using executive power to make changes that the legislature has not endorsed.
Earlier this year, Democrats, joined by several moderate Republicans in the GOP-controlled Virginia Senate, narrowly passed “ban the box” legislation. It was subsequently shelved in subcommittee by the 2-1 GOP majority in the House of Delegates.
Friday’s order largely reflects the failed legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg.
The order states that “within the executive branch ... state employment decisions will not be based on the criminal history of an individual unless demonstrably job-related and consistent with business necessity, or state or federal law prohibits hiring an individual with certain convictions for a particular position.”
The order is expected to require initial checks in applications with law enforcement agencies, fire departments, and emergency medical services agencies.
The order also ensures that “any criminal history background check is only conducted after a candidate has (a) signed the appropriate waiver authorizing release, (b) been found otherwise eligible for the position, and (c) is being considered for a specific position.”
At that point, an applicant who refuses to complete and sign an authorization for release of criminal history information could have their application removed from further consideration.
“I believe this can make a significant difference in the lives of many Virginians,” said Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, who has sponsored “ban-the-box” legislation in previous years and was a co-sponsor of Dance’s bill this year.
Richmond City Council President Michelle R. Mosby attended the signing ceremony. Mosby led the charge to pass legislation banning the box in city employment applications in early 2013 and has urged the governor to have it implemented statewide.
Staff writer Graham Moomaw contributed to this report.