RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Friday ordered state agencies to remove from their employment applications questions that would disqualify job seekers on the basis of a criminal record.
McAuliffe (D) signed an executive order to “ban the box” — a reference to an item on preliminary screening forms — at a news conference at Goodwill Industries outside Richmond.
“We now are in the Lenten season — Good Friday today, and then we have Easter coming up,” the governor said. “It’s all about forgiveness and giving people second chances.”
With McAuliffe’s order, Virginia became the 15th state to remove questions about criminal history from job applications, according to the New York-based National Employment Law Project.
The District and the state of Maryland, as well as the Maryland counties of Montgomery and Prince George’s, have instituted similar policies, as have 14 cities and counties in Virginia, including Arlington, Fairfax and Richmond.
Some of the laws also apply to private employers as well as state agencies, although Virginia’s policy does not.
The move builds on McAuliffe’s efforts to restore voting rights to thousands of former prisoners.
Following reforms instituted by his predecessor, Robert F. McDonnell (R), McAuliffe last year reclassified a series of serious drug crimes to make it dramatically easier for felons who have served their sentences to have their rights restored. He also streamlined the application process to turn a 13-page document that had to be notarized into a one-page form.
Levar Stoney, secretary of the commonwealth, said more than 6,500 Virginians have taken advantage of the program.
“In order to build that new Virginia economy, you cannot do so without new Virginia values,” he said during Friday’s announcement.
In addition to removing the criminal history question on the state application, the Virginia order says a background check can be conducted only after the prospective employee has been found otherwise eligible and is being considered for the job.
Nicole Riley, Virginia state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said that although the move does not currently apply to private employers, she worries that it could make it more likely for a more sweeping policy to take effect in the future.
“It would be a burdensome requirement on small businesses,” she said in a phone interview. “Many of them don’t have human resources departments. You could potentially have wasted a lot of time and lost other good candidates.”
Also troubling to Riley is the way McAuliffe amended state policy after a related bill failed to pass in the recent legislative session.
“A legislative policy is debated in the General Assembly that doesn’t go the way he wants it to, he issues an executive order,” she said.
“We’ve seen that at the executive level with the president, and our members have not been too happy with that kind of action taking place.”
The Virginia bill, sponsored by state Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance (D-Petersburg), would have forbidden state agencies from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal record until after a job offer was made.
It passed the Virginia Senate but died in the House.
House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) declined to comment.
The order does not trump state code, which in some instances requires background checks as a condition of employment, McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said.
For example, Virginia State Police and people who work with money or inventory at the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would be exempt, he said.