Hiring workers could get a bit tougher for many employers in the city of Los Angeles.

The City Council last week gave initial approval to a “ban the box” ordinance prohibiting employers with at least 10 employees from asking about applicants’ criminal histories on initial applications for job openings.

The aim of the ordinance, first introduced more than two years ago by Councilman Curren Price, is to give applicants with criminal convictions on their records more of a chance to display other qualifications and increase their odds of landing a job, instead of being summarily dismissed without even a call-back. Employers would still be allowed to ask about applicants’ criminal histories, but only once a conditional offer of employment is made.

In making his motion, Price said that given the increased numbers of recently released prisoners, society will benefit from putting more of these people to work, rather than letting them languish on the streets and possibly committing more crimes.

But the measure met with opposition from at least one local business group, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. Chief Executive Stuart Waldman argued in an op-ed for the San Fernando Valley Sun that the regulation would increase the hiring costs for businesses.

“By forbidding employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until late in the hiring process, the ordinance forces businesses to waste valuable time on interviewing candidates that do not qualify for the position,” Waldman wrote.

He also said the fines of up to $2,000 imposed on employers that don’t comply with the ordinance are excessive for small-business owners.

Of course, it’s possible that if employers are banned from asking directly about applicants’ criminal histories, they could resort to indirect means to weed out likely ex-convicts. For example, if a resume has a three-year gap in it, the employer could assume the possibility that the applicant was imprisoned during that time and automatically put the application in the rejection pile.

Because the council’s vote was 12-1 and not unanimous – Councilman Mitch Englander was the lone opponent – the ordinance must come back this week for a second vote. It’s widely expected to pass and be signed into law by Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Sidewalk Repair Rebates

The City Council last week also finally took action on another long-debated measure: a $1.4 billion program to repair sidewalks over the next 30 years. As an enticement to convince property owners to repair sidewalks on their own, the measure allows the city to issue rebates.

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