Emily Allen Published

W.Va. House To Consider ‘Ban The Box’ Bill


West Virginia could be one of more than 30 states to “ban the box” and prohibit certain employers from asking applicants about their criminal history, after lawmakers considered House Bill 4905 Friday evening. 

The legislation from Del. Sammi Brown, D-Jefferson, would only apply to public employers, on a state or county level, and it excludes public positions dealing with law enforcement, community safety, civil service, and those involving direct interaction with minors or the elderly.

The “box” in her bill, and several others that have been and are being considered nationwide, refers to an area on most applications asking applicants to indicate whether they have a criminal history or not. 

Under House Bill 4905, employers still can ask about criminal records, but they have to wait until the applicant has finished applying and received a job interview. Applicants also can sign a waiver, authorizing employers to conduct criminal background checks.  

Brown said the legislation was introduced “to level the playing field and address recidivism.”

“[It’s] not to create a veil, not to be dishonest in their application, but instead to be judged by their qualifications and what they can bring,” she said Friday. “What we’re after here is, again, trying to get people back into the workforce.”

The House Judiciary Committee agreed to send an amended version of the bill to the full House of Delegates with a favorable recommendation. Delegates changed the bill to include a provision allowing employers to publish which criminal charges would make an applicant ineligible. 

Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, was one of the delegates in Judiciary who voted against passing the bill. 

“I think this bill comes about [it] from the wrong angle,” Foster said in committee. He told other lawmakers the bill “makes it so the denial is moved further down the line.”

Instead, Foster suggested lawmakers change rules that they and past Legislatures have created, making it easier for employers to turn away applicants who have been involved in the criminal justice system. 

Del. Tom Fast, R-Fayette, also opposed the bill on Friday, saying he thought the best way to help West Virginians with a criminal history would be to work on improving measures to expunge certain offenses. 

Del. Kayla Kessinger, R-Fayette, agreed with Brown and is co-sponsoring the bill. She said she supported the legislation because it’s a relevant issue applicants with a criminal history face daily, even if their records are related to an incident that occurred when they were younger. 

“And that felony is disqualifying them from even having the opportunity … to prove their worth and their skill and their ability to bring something positive to our public employers,” Kessinger said.  

The bill moves on to the full House of Delegates for consideration. Lawmakers in both chambers have until Wednesday, Feb. 26, to get their bills on final reading if they want their legislation to cross over into the next chamber for consideration. 

Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.