The “Opportunity to Compete Act,” which limits employers from conducting criminal background checks on job applicants until after a first interview has taken place, was signed into law Monday by Gov. Chris Christie.
Also known as “ban-the-box,” the bill was passed by the Legislature in June.
“Today, we made sure that one mistake doesn’t result in a lifetime of economic hardship,” state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), a lead sponsor on the bill, said Monday. “We need to do all we can as a society to help people with conviction histories to reintegrate into the community so they can provide for their families and themselves. Today’s signing is not just about fairness for individuals, it’s also about creating economic opportunities that will benefit society as a whole.”
Christie signed the bill as part of a package of bail and criminal justice system reforms.
"This is going to make a huge difference for folks who have paid their debts to society, who want to start their lives over again and are going to have an opportunity to do just that in our state," Christie said Monday at Trenton City Hall. "That’s what people want and it’s what they expect and it’s what they deserve from those of us they entrust with public office."
Employers found in violation of the law are now subject to fines of $1,000 for the first offense, $5,000 for the second offense and $10,000 for each subsequent offense.
“We know that eliminating barriers to employment is a key component of a sensible policy to promote growth and economic development,” Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Trenton), a bill sponsor, said. “As a result of this law, hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents will have access to the American Dream — a chance to rise or fall on your own merit.”
For months, business groups have held the position that removing the so-called “box” altogether would better suit the legislation. Though they remained largely opposed to the measure at the time of its passing, the end result was a piece of legislation that reflected some of the business community’s concerns.
Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said that Cunningham, specifically, was deserving of recognition for her “ability to bring all the stakeholders together.”
“I think at the end of day, the governor signed a bill that everybody should be at least satisfied with, because the process worked,” Egenton said. “We put over two years into it.”
And while Egenton, like others in the business community, is still not delighted with the new law, he notes that the final draft was a “more palatable” version as a result of the collaborative process.
“I think it’s a product of the way that Trenton is supposed to work,” Egenton said.
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