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.

While most of the attention has been on sidewalks in front of residential properties, business owners and other commercial property owners are also impacted. As things stand now, crumbling sidewalks might dissuade customers from walking into stores, so a city program to repair sidewalks is welcomed on that basis alone.

But the ordinance does contain a downside: After 30 years, the responsibility for maintenance and repairs on sidewalks reverts to the nearest property owner. To convince property owners to fix sidewalks on their own sooner rather than later, the ordinance allows them to apply for rebates of up to $2,000 for the owner of a residential lot and up to $4,000 for the owner of a commercial lot. But the rebates will only be issued for three years – after that, if a property owner fixes the sidewalk, they will bear the full cost.

Another Homeless Vote?

Voters in the city Los Angeles might have thought they had dealt with the region’s burgeoning homeless problem by approving a $1.2 billion bond measure for construction of up to 10,000 housing units for the homeless, but that only addresses half the problem.

Finding the funds to continue providing social services to the homeless is the other – and that’s the responsibility of county government.

So, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has said he intends to propose a $1.2 billion bond measure for homeless services as early as this week, when two newly elected supervisors take their seats on the five-member board. If the board approves, the bond measure could appear on the March ballot.

Supermajority in Sacramento

After votes were finally tallied in several tight races, it became official last week: Democrats captured two-thirds of the seats in both houses of the state Legislature. That theoretically allows Democrats to turn back any Republican opposition or override vetoes from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Now the focus for business turns to Brown and to the caucus of moderate Democrats in the Legislature, particularly in the Assembly. In past sessions, this informal caucus has stopped or softened many bills that business interests deemed hostile.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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