Indiana First State to Bar Local “Ban the Box” Laws

Gov. Holcomb also issues executive order removing criminal history question from state employment applications

By Roy Maurer May 11, 2017
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With a pair of signatures, Indiana became the first state in the nation to prohibit all local "ban-the-box" laws and the 27th state to ban the box asking questions about prior arrests or criminal history on state government job applications.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 312, which bars local governments from enacting ban-the-box laws like Indianapolis did in 2014. Ban-the-box laws regulate when an employer can ask about an applicant's criminal history during the hiring process. Most statutes require hiring managers to put off asking about a candidate's criminal history until after an interview has been conducted or a provisional job offer has been extended.

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The legislation is meant to make it easier for employers that operate statewide from having to navigate different hiring processes and obligations throughout the state, said Sen. Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, the author of the bill. It takes effect July 1.

Over 150 state, county and city governments have enacted ban-the-box laws across the country, and new laws are being passed every year. Most are limited to public-sector hiring.

Indianapolis and Marion County passed its ban-the-box law in February 2014. The ordinance prohibits city or county agencies and vendors from inquiring into an applicant's conviction history until after the first interview. If no interview is conducted, the employer is prohibited from making inquiries or gathering any information regarding the applicant's criminal convictions.

Other areas of the country are attempting to enact bills like S.B. 312.

A similar bill (House Bill 577) is making its way through the Texas state legislature.

There are very strong arguments for statewide ban-the-box laws instead of a patchwork of local ordinances, said Les Rosen, an attorney and author of The Safe Hiring Manual (Facts on Demand Press, 2017). "If every city, county or district passes its own laws, it becomes very Balkanized and hard to do business. By having a clear statewide law, all employers know the rules and employers in fact have an incentive to hire an ex-offender because of the statutory immunity or protections a state can give an employer."  

Rosen explained that only a state legislature can provide employer immunity or protection if the employer hires an ex-offender and the person commits another crime. Local ban-the-box laws can't do that.

The day before signing S.B. 312 into law, Holcomb issued an executive order banning the box on job applications for future state employment. He said the order would delay any questions about applicants' criminal history until the job interview portion of the hiring process.

The executive order affects more than 1.12 million Hoosiers with some form of a criminal record, according to U.S. Department of Justice data.

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