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Focus of bill is second chance

In December, Texas House Representative Joe Deshotel of District 22 filed House Bill 548 for review. HB 548 relates “to the consideration of criminal history record information regarding applicants for employment.”

It is a bill intended to alleviate some of the burden from ex-offenders who may face discrimination from employers based on past offenses.

“It has to do with trying to give a fair chance to those who may have a criminal history,” Deshotel said. “It’s pretty much for anyone who hasn’t had any issue with breaking the law in seven years.”

The number of individuals in the United States with arrests on their records is significant.

In 2012, according to the United States Census Bureau, the country’s population was 314.1 million.

In the same year, over 100.5 million offenders were registered in the criminal history of the state criminal history repositories on Dec. 31, 2012, according to a 2012 Department of Justice survey.

That is nearly one-third of the country’s population, or one in every three American adults.

“These kinds of activities stay with them for the rest of their lives,” Deshotel said. “They can’t get a good job because the first thing an employer looks at (on their application) is if they have ever been convicted.”

Deshotel said some version of HB 548 has been adopted in 28 other states.

“If it’s a misdemeanor that’s over seven years old, then you are not required to answer that question until you have been called in for a job interview,” Deshotel said. “By that point, employers have expressed a serious interest in that person.”

Deshotel said that the limit for felonies would be 10 years, with some exceptions.

“For example, if you’re applying for a bank teller position and you have a theft conviction,” Deshotel said. “Or if you’re trying to get into child welfare and have been convicted of indecency with a child.”

Regardless of the type of criminal offense in the past, it was found that ex-offenders are often at a disadvantage when applying for jobs.

In a 2009 study funded by the Department of Justice, researchers found that a criminal record reduced the probability of a callback or job offer by almost 50 percent.

According to Deshotel, the bill is designed to give people with criminal backgrounds a second chance.

“There’s a lot of people who know others who have made mistakes in their lives …” Deshotel said. “And this is to try to get them their fair share because no one seriously considers it.”

For Deshotel, HB 548 would appear to be an effort to help not only ex-offenders, but the community’s unemployment rate and thereby the local economy as well.

“It’s just a community thing,” Deshotel said. “I know we have a high unemployment rate in Southeast Texas… It’s pretty much for the general welfare of everyone, for the people who want to start over with their lives.”

“I hope that it’s passed and the governor signs some version of it,” Deshotel said. “It will probably help some people who are trying to turn their lives around.”

Deshotel expects the bill to be reviewed some time in March or April.