Governor Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform council will propose a number of policy changes to the General Assembly next month. Most of these proposed changes will be focused on making it easier for rehabilitated criminals to obtain jobs and housing.
First, The Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform unanimously voted on December 18, 2013 to support creating a private cause of action for citizens so they can sue reporting agencies and other private companies that publish incorrect or sealed criminal histories. The purpose behind the proposal is protection for offenders who have satisfied their sentencing requirements, completed mandatory treatment programs, and have been deemed to present a low risk of recidivism.
The council also approved a proposal that would prohibit most state agencies and departments from inquiring about someone’s criminal background on job applications.
Council co-chairman W. Thomas Worthy, deputy executive counsel to the governor, who is from Carrollton, said the proposal is similar to what 10 other states and the city of Atlanta have done. However, he cautioned, it should not be broadened to cover private businesses.
“This council understands the importance of not telling private corporations what to do and not telling them what they have a right to know regarding their potential applicant pool,” Worthy said. “I think this is the state’s way of saying we can lead by example.
The proposed law would exclude public safety agencies as well as all other agencies where a prior conviction would disqualify someone from employment.
Additionally, a proposal to lift the automatic driver’s license suspension for drug offenders received council approval. If approved by the General Assembly, past drug offenders whose crimes didn’t involve operation of a vehicle could retain their ability to drive themselves to work or treatment programs. Under current law, a conviction for a drug offense, even a misdemeanor, results in an immediate suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license.
The council tabled a proposal that would have established negligent hiring liability protection for businesses that employ ex-convicts.
Georgia law currently requires that negligent hiring claims be backed by evidence that an employer knew or “reasonably should have known” of an employee’s propensity to commit a certain crime. The council considered a proposal that would create a rebuttable presumption for those businesses as long as the ex-offender employee obtained a certificate of rehabilitation and fitness for employment from the state Department of Corrections.
The problem with this initiative was illustrated by council member Katie Jo Ballard, executive director of the Governor’s Office for Children and Families. She said that she was concerned that issuing such a certificate would open the Department of Corrections to lawsuits. Also, other members questioned whether the proposal offered enough protection to businesses to create a hiring incentive.
I am very proud of this council’s bold attempt to address the relationship between unemployment and criminal convictions in such a common sense manner. These recommendations by the council will put more Georgians to work, create a larger tax base, and reduce the crime rate overall because people are working.
The council plans to issue its report to the General Assembly during the second week in January. I strongly encourage our delegation, as well as other legislators, to adopt these recommendations.