Call to Action: Ban the Box Bills in the Tennessee General Assembly

TN State Capitol Building

Greetings Ban the Box supporters.

We at Democracy Nashville wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with some information about the state of Ban the Box measures in Tennessee. As you may have heard, there are some bills that have been introduced in the Tennessee State Legislature related to Ban the Box policies. We wanted to clarify some issues related to them and encourage you to act.

First, the successful work of Democracy Nashville and our community partners in passing our Ban the Box initiative through the Civil Service Commission, removing questions about criminal background from initial applications for most Metro Nashville public jobs, will not be threatened or undone by any current bill in the state legislature. This is good news. Our work was not done in vain and the fruits of our labor will not be jeopardized by the current actions of our state senators or representatives.

Second, one of two bills that has been introduced related to Ban the Box policies (SB 2103 / HB 2002) aims to prohibit local governments from requiring private employers that operate within city limits or that contract with local government to remove questions (banning the box) about criminal background from their applications for hire. To clarify again, this bill would not undo the work we have already done and would not prohibit local governments from banning the box for public jobs. This bill would, however, make it more difficult for groups like ours to extend Ban the Box initiatives to apply to private employers in a jurisdiction or private employers with whom local governments contract. The bill has already passed in the Senate and will likely go up for a full vote in the House on Thursday, March 3. We encourage you to contact your representative in the House to encourage them not to vote for HB2002. Please pass this along to your friends across the state to encourage them to contact their representatives as well. We encourage you to remind your representative that Ban the Box measures do not remove, but only delay, criminal background checks, which helps ensure that qualified applicants seeking work after incarceration have the opportunity to do so effectively, which benefits the entire community—because more working people make for more healthy communities.

Third, a bill (SB 2440 / HB 2442) introduced by Sen. Kyle and Rep. Gilmore last month seeks to ban the box for some state-level jobs in Tennessee. We join the ACLU and others in encouraging you to contact your senators and representatives, urging them to support this measure. It is currently moving through committees in both the Senate and House, hopefully moving towards a vote in the coming weeks.

Thank you for the work you’ve already done in helping us ban the box on (most) public job applications in Davidson County—work that is not threatened by any bill currently under consideration in the state legislature. And thank you for supporting bills that ban the box at the state level, and for opposing those that prohibit the spread of ban the box measures to private employers. In the end, any regressive actions taken by the Tennessee state legislature certainly pose obstacles to the work of creating more just communities, but they cannot stop the momentum already in motion in our state and beyond. Restraining the harmful actions of our elected officials is one essential tactic in the battle to make our communities more just, but thankfully, even if regressive bills do pass and progressive ones don’t, other tactics remain at our disposal. Stay tuned.

 

Sincerely,

Democracy Nashville

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Nashville Bans the Box on Metro Government Job Applications!

Members and supporters of Democracy Nashville after their victory.

Members and supporters of Democracy Nashville after their victory.

Today, after a year-and-a-half-long grassroots campaign that garnered support from nearly 10,000 community members and approximately 70 congregations and organizations, Metro’s Civil Service Commission voted to direct Metro Human Resources to implement a Ban the Box or “fair chance hiring” policy that will remove questions regarding criminal background from the first stage of applications for most Metro Government jobs. The provision will go into effect no later than January 1, 2016. While different from the initially attempted charter referendum strategy, the end result is the same: Metro Nashville has added its name to more than 100 cities across the U.S. that have adopted policies that reduce barriers to employment for persons with criminal convictions.

Jackie Sims, of Democracy Nashville’s campaign, celebrated today’s decision. “We are so glad the Commission listened to residents of our city and voted to let people who have already served their time become contributing members of our community again,” said Sims. “We all make mistakes. We shouldn’t be judged for them—and locked out of work and opportunity—for the rest of our lives.”

While Sims and other Democracy Nashville members are proud of their campaign, team member Kenneth Caine noted that there still remains work to be done. “Metro banned the box because the people of Nashville wanted it. But we still need MDHA and NES to do the same,” Caine said. “Metro also needs to ban the box on all city contracts, and on all job applications across the city, like New York City just did.”

After the Commission voted to direct Metro HR to implement a fair chance hiring protocol, Commissioner Billye Sanders publicly praised the decision, saying it is good that Metro Government can model this policy, and adding that she hopes it will influence the private sector to do the same.

Today’s Civil Service Commission vote in favor of a ban the box policy comes after Democracy Nashville and an extensive team of community volunteers gathered enthusiastic support from nearly 10,000 residents in some of Nashville’s most economically disenfranchised communities. Canvassing primarily in African American neighborhoods in North, East, and South Nashville, team members encountered thousands of community members who have seen firsthand the disabling effects of the criminal justice system on those who have served time, making today’s vote a sign of hope for scores of Nashville residents eager to create new lives for themselves and their families.

* * *

After learning in June of this year that its charter referendum campaign did not acquire an adequate number of valid signatures (due to high numbers of purged voters whose signatures were rendered invalid) and therefore would not appear on the ballot, members of grassroots community group Democracy Nashville met in July with Metro Nashville’s Human Resources department to propose that they implement a Ban the Box policy for the city. Metro HR put Ban the Box on the agenda for the August meeting of the Metro Nashville Civil Service Commission, which oversees all city hiring policy. Democracy Nashville developed information on fair chance hiring policies across the country for the commissioners and appeared before the Commission on August 11 and September 8.

At an October 13 public hearing, commissioners heard overwhelming support for a Ban the Box policy from community members directly affected by the criminal justice system, ministers working with restorative justice and youth, nonprofit leaders facilitating prisoner reentry, lawyers, organizers, and activists. All four commissioners, as well as representatives from Metro Human Resources, also spoke with affirmation about the good that would come from delaying inquiries into criminal convictions until someone has been interviewed and is a candidate for hire. One month later, commissioners voted unanimously to ban the box on Metro Government employment applications.

Democracy Nashville’s grassroots efforts received their start with Council Member Erica Gilmore’s efforts in Metro Council. In 2012, Gilmore sponsored and passed a non-binding resolution asking the Civil Service Commission to establish an “Equal Employment” interviewing policy that would limit discrimination against persons with criminal convictions. In 2014, Gilmore sponsored a charter referendum to ban the box inquiring into criminal convictions on Metro Government employment applications. The referendum failed by only four votes. In the wake of this important effort, Democracy Nashville took up the fight by partnering with approximately 70 faith communities and community organizations to secure enough signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. After gathering an inadequate number of signatures, Democracy Nashville approached Metro HR.

When asked whether they support a Ban the Box charter referendum at an April 29 mayoral candidates forum, six out of seven of Nashville’s candidates for mayor enthusiastically pledged their support for the measure, including Nashville’s new mayor, Megan Barry.

According to the National Employment Law Project, more than 16 states and 100 cities and counties have passed “Ban the Box” legislation and policies like Nashville’s. Fair chance hiring policies, or “Ban the Box” measures, reduce barriers that keep people who have already served their time from obtaining the employment that enables their stability and the wellbeing of the communities to which they return. Groups across the country agree that employment is one of the most important ways of reducing prison recidivism. Additionally, Ban the Box measures hold the potential to improve local economies. In Durham, NC, a study conducted in the years following the passage of Ban the Box legislation found that the city’s revenue stream increased due to the influx of hundreds of persons with criminal convictions into the city’s tax base.

Beyond the economic benefits, studies find that Ban the Box measures prove no risk to public safety due to safeguards within such policies, and that people with felonies, contrary to common presuppositions, tend to be model employees who exceed employer expectations.

One Step Closer to Banning the Box in Metro Nashville

Civil Service Commission Speakers 10-13-15

On October 13, 2015, the Metropolitan Nashville Civil Service Commission called a public hearing to hear from members of the public on implementation of a Ban the Box or “fair chance hiring” policy. Commissioners heard from numerous community leaders on why they support Ban the Box (pictured above). Supporters included people directly affected by the criminal justice system, ministers working with restorative justice and youth, nonprofit leaders facilitating prisoner reentry, lawyers, organizers, and activists. All spoke movingly of the importance of banning the box in Nashville and the impact it would have on people’s lives. All four commissioners (one of the five recently moved to a new position, leaving an open slot), as well as representatives from Metro Human Resources, spoke with affirmation about the good that would come from delaying inquiries into criminal convictions until someone has been interviewed and is a candidate for hire.

Following the guidelines and due process of the Commission, commissioners will vote on a Ban the Box proposal at their next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, November 10. While the fight is not quite over yet, our team is confident in a positive outcome. Please stay tuned over the next month for possible means of further support, and stay tuned on November 10 for what will hopefully be the final word on this phase of our campaign.

Democracy Nashville would like to extend its deepest thanks to those who spoke at the hearing, who signed letters of support, who helped us build a base of support (at least 9,500 people strong) over the course of the last year, and who have assisted in pushing Nashville closer to justice and equity.

Stay tuned!

Ban the Box Update & Request for Support

On May 18, 2015, members of Democracy Nashville delivered approximately 9,500 signatures to the Metro Clerk in Nashville, TN. The city required 6,847 valid signatures from Davidson County voters for a referendum to make it to the August 2015 ballot. On June 11, the Davidson County Election Commission announced that they were able to verify only 5,902 of the 9,500 signatures submitted. According to a senior administrator with the Election Commission, the “majority” of the invalidated signatures were from registered voters who were purged from the voter rolls.

Despite the fact that our petition did not appear on the August 2015 ballot, our fight to Ban the Box in Nashville continues. In July, members of our team met with Metro Nashville’s Human Resources department to propose that they implement a Ban the Box policy for the city. Per official protocol, Metro HR put Ban the Box on the agenda for the August meeting of the Metro Nashville Civil Service Commission, which oversees all city hiring protocol. Our team developed information for the five commissioners and appeared before the Commission on August 11th. At their September 8th meeting, the Commission decided to call a public hearing for October in consideration of implementation of a Ban the Box policy for Metro Nashville government. At some point after the public hearing, the Commission will vote on the proposal.

As part of our continued effort, we are asking you to endorse a letter of support (see below) to the civil service commission, urging them to take action to Ban the Box on Metro government job applications. If you would like to sign the letter please email us by Monday, October 12 at bantheboxnashville@gmail.com with your name, as you would like it to appear on the letter, and community organization or church affiliation. In the meantime, we urge you to continue following our website and Facebook page and email blasts in the days and weeks ahead. Thank you for your continued effort and support to Ban the Box!  

Sincerely,
Democracy Nashville Team

https://democracynashville.wordpress.com | http://www.facebook.com/bantheboxnashville
bantheboxnashville@gmail.com | 615-802-8453

Letter of Support

October 13, 2015 

Metropolitan Nashville Civil Service Commission
404 James Robertson Parkway Suite 1000 Nashville, TN 37219 

Dear Civil Service Commission: 

As residents of Nashville, members of various community organizations and faith leaders who journey alongside the people in our city, where residents struggle under the weight of poverty, joblessness, and discrimination, we have seen firsthand the despair of individuals who have spent time behind bars. Many of these individuals return to their communities with great hope only to face closed doors again and again. 

As you know, we live in a nation that processes more people through its criminal justice system than any other nation, where people who are labeled “criminals” are unfairly denied a place in our communities and workplaces. We know from the lives of mothers and fathers and sons and daughters that lack of opportunity leads to despair, which often leads back to prison. Without access to quality jobs, members of our community that have spent time in the criminal justice system cannot thrive as they deserve. 

One of the foremost barriers to quality jobs for people who have served time are the questions on applications regarding criminal convictions. Studies in cities across our country have shown that the removal of such questions enables employers to get to know the skills and capacities of applicants, rather than immediately dismissing them based on their past, which leads to more people working, resulting in stronger economies and neighborhoods. Because questions regarding criminal background discriminate against people with histories in the criminal justice system, we recognize that Ban the Box policies ensure that people who are ready to turn their lives around actually have the opportunity to do so through gainful employment.

Given the widespread adoption of Ban the Box policies in more than 100 cities and 18 states, we firmly believe that adoption of such a policy in Metro Nashville will make our communities stronger, allowing our economy to thrive and ultimately making Nashville a premier city to live and work in for all people. Thank you for your consideration. 

Sincerely,
[Name, Affiliation]

An Update & Call for Continued Support

April 12 Canvassing 3

Dear Ban the Box Supporter,

We write with a brief update and a call for your continued readiness and support for our campaign.

As you may have heard, on June 11, the Davidson County Election Commission announced that they were able to verify only 5,902 of the 9,500 signatures submitted endorsing a “Ban the Box” charter referendum—945 fewer than the required 6,847. This means that the Election Commission found approximately 3,600—or 38%—of the 9,500 signatures submitted to be invalid. According to a senior administrator with the Election Commission, the “majority” of the invalidated signatures were from registered voters who were purged from the voter rolls.

On June 12, in response to our records request, the Election Commission turned over copies of all petitions with the Commission’s invalidation markings to our team. Our review of invalidated signatures continues, but we can say thus far that there are indeed a high number of “purged” voters, many of whom likely do not know they have been purged from the rolls. The fact that the State of Tennessee has purged nearly 2,000 Davidson County residents who signed our petition, and the fact that we conducted the vast majority of our signature-gathering in lower to middle class black neighborhoods and black churches, speaks volumes about the degree of voter disenfranchisement in our state.

Despite the fact that our petition likely will not appear on the upcoming ballot (early voting is July 17 – August 1, and Election Day is August 6), our fight to Ban the Box in Nashville is far from over. Our team is currently in consultation with members of Metro Council, our lawyer, and other community members in order to reroute the enormous energy and support you have helped us gather across this city. Considering the fact that 9,500 locals signed the petition, that more than 50 congregations and community organizations worked hard to further our campaign, and that six out of seven of Nashville’s mayoral candidates publicly endorsed our campaign, it is beyond clear to us that the people of Nashville want to ban the box. That is why we are currently working up a new strategy to accomplish our aims by means other than the ballot box.

In the meantime, we urge you to continue to keep an eye on our website and Facebook page and email blasts in the days and weeks ahead. We have come this far only thanks to your grassroots support and labor, and we will only continue to push ahead with the same. There will soon be important opportunities to lend your voice to help us remove questions regarding criminal background from Metro Government job applications.

Please stay tuned!

Sincerely,

Democracy Nashville

Election Commission makes ruling on petition drive, Democracy Nashville responds

Election Commission Meeting - 6-11-15

The Davidson County Election Commission met Thursday, June 11, where they announced the results of their petition verification process.

On Thursday, June 11, the Davidson County Election Commission announced that they were able to verify only 5,902 of the 9,500 signatures submitted endorsing a “Ban the Box” charter referendum—945 fewer than the required 6,847. This means that the Election Commission found approximately 3,600—or 38%—of the 9,500 signatures submitted to be invalid. According to a senior administrator with the Election Commission, the “majority” of the invalidated signatures were from registered voters who were purged from the voter rolls.

At Thursday’s Election Commission meeting, in response to both an emailed and verbal request, a senior administrator gave verbal confirmation to a member of Democracy Nashville’s Ban the Box team that the Election Commission would make copies of all of the petitions containing its marks next to all invalidated signatures by the end of the business day Friday, June 12, in order that the Ban the Box team might have the opportunity to conduct a review of the petitions. Democracy Nashville’s lawyer, Daniel Horwitz, also filed a formal records request Thursday afternoon to formalize the verbal request.

“Having turned in nearly 3,000 more signatures than necessary, we are extremely disappointed with the outcome of the Election Commission’s count,” Horwitz said. “We have asked the Election Commission to produce detailed records of its signature verification process in order to verify its legitimacy, and we are fully exploring all of the legal options available to us at this time.”

The referendum, if it were to be voted upon and passed, would remove questions concerning an applicant’s criminal history from the initial stage of Metro Government employment applications. Some exceptions apply. Early voting for the general election lasts July 17 – August 1, and Election Day is August 6.

The crucial work of Democracy Nashville and its enormous, grassroots network of supporters and volunteers is not over. The fight continues, and we will need your support in the coming weeks. Please stay tuned to our website and Facebook page for updates in the coming days.

https://democracynashville.wordpress.com

http://www.facebook.com/bantheboxnashville

9,500 signatures submitted to Metro Clerk

Petition Delivery 1On May 18, members of Democracy Nashville delivered approximately 9,500 signatures to the Metro Clerk in Nashville, TN. The city requires 6,847 valid signatures from Davidson County voters for a referendum to make it to the ballot. We expect to hear back in the next few weeks on the result of the Election Commission’s verification process. In the meantime, we celebrate having come this far as a completely volunteer-run campaign with an operating budget of less than $1000. This is truly what grassroots people power looks like! Thank you, Nashville, for getting us this far. Stay tuned.

WPLN: Nashville Voters May Decide Whether Metro Can Screen Applicants for Convictions

The Tennessean: Marijuana push falls short but 3 other referendums likely

WSMV: Grassroots campaigns earn way onto ballot

New Film & Ways to Support

Nashville, we need you this weekend to help us reach our goal of 9,000 signatures from Davidson County voters. Our goal is within reach, but your support is necessary! Please call us at 615-802-8453 to learn how you can volunteer a few hours this weekend to our campaign.

You can also sign the petition in person:

Go to Alkebu-Lan Images Bookstore​ at 2721 Jefferson St. Mon-Sat 10am-7pm and Sun 12-6pm or BookmanBookwoman in Hillsboro Village at 1713 21st Ave S. Mon-Tues 10am-6pm, Wed-Fri 10am-8pm, Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 10am-5pm, and sign our petition! Just tell a store employee you would like to sign the Ban the Box petition. And be sure to browse the shelves of these fine businesses too!

Updates: May 9, 2015

Our campaign has been spreading rapidly with significant support across Davidson County and is entering its final stretch. We are approaching our goal, but…

WE STILL NEED YOUR SUPPORT!

Here are five things you can do TODAY:

1) Gather 10 petitions from your neighbors, friends, or family THIS WEEK (May 10 – May 17). To do so, please call 615-802-8453 right now to speak to one of our team members to arrange for us to bring you petitions. Otherwise, you may download and print the petition yourself. All signatories must be Davidson County voters and must write their FULL address (street address, city, state, zip) as it appears on their voter registration. You can arrange with us to pick up the petitions by hand by calling the number above, or you may mail them to the following address by Wednesday, May 13:

Democracy Nashville
P.O. Box 282216
Nashville, TN 37228

2) Download, print, and fill out the petition with YOUR name, address, signature, and date, and mail it to the address above.

3) Call us at 615-802-8453 to arrange to gather signatures at your congregation or community organization. The final day that you can gather signatures is May 17. We will arrange to come gather your signed petitions the same day. Please call us at the number above TODAY to arrange pick-up.

4) Go to Alkebu-Lan Images Bookstore​ at 2721 Jefferson St. Mon-Sat 10am-7pm and Sun 12-6pm or BookmanBookwoman in Hillsboro Village at 1713 21st Ave S. Mon-Tues 10am-6pm, Wed-Fri 10am-8pm, Sat 9am-8pm, Sun 10am-5pm, and sign our petition! Just tell a store employee you would like to sign the Ban the Box petition. And be sure to browse the shelves of these fine businesses too!

5) “Like” and share our Facebook page with your friends.

We have also been in the news lately, and have received public endorsement from almost every Nashville mayoral candidate. See below:

WPLN: ‘Ban the Box’ Campaign Wants Metro to Stop Asking Job Applicants’ Criminal History

News Channel 5: Nashville Group Wants to Criminal History Questions on Job Applications

Nashville Mayoral Candidates Endorse Ban the Box

Thanks for your help, Nashville. We can’t do this without you! Please lend just a few hours of your time to help us Ban the Box. Call 615-802-8453 today to make arrangements with a member of our team.

Welcome to Ban the Box Nashville

Welcome to the website for the charter referendum campaign to “ban the box” in Nashville, Tennessee. We (Democracy Nashville) are currently seeking signatures from 6,847 registered Davidson County (TN) voters. If we secure enough signatures by May 18, 2015, our proposed charter referendum will appear on the August 6, 2015 ballot in Davidson County where voters will have the opportunity to vote “Yes” or “No.” Voting “Yes” will mean voting to amend Section 12.05 of Article 12 of the Charter of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County to prohibit Metro Government from inquiring about a prospective employee’s criminal history on an initial job application, with some exceptions.

For more information on our campaign, visit our What is Ban the Box? page.

To sign the petition, visit our Sign the Petition page.

To learn how you can volunteer, visit our Volunteer page.

To keep up with us on Facebook, visit and “Like” our page.

Thank you for helping us to reduce barriers to employment for persons with criminal convictions seeking stability and flourishing in Nashville, Tennessee.