TOPEKA — Gov. Jeff Colyer on Wednesday signed an executive order banning state agencies from asking job-seekers about their criminal history during the initial phase of the hiring process.
Commonly referred to as a "ban the box" initiative, because it eliminates the question from the job application form, Colyer's order gives agencies 90 days to update their practices.
Surrounded by Republican and Democratic lawmakers, the governor said those with criminal convictions deserve an opportunity to explain what happened before they are automatically disqualified for a position. He said offenders who are able to find gainful employment lead better lives and become full members of the community.
"The true character of any Kansan is measured by how we respond to adversity, and the work that they put in to make their lives better, and the lives around them," Colyer said. "I think that is a great opportunity and a lesson for all of us."
Colyer praised businesses like Walmart, Home Depot and Koch Industries, as well as cities like Topeka, who already have adopted "ban the box" policies.
T.D. Hicks, pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Topeka, said he expects the order to have a significant impact by leveling the playing for people seeking access to state government jobs in the capital city.
"This is an issue that individuals face often on a daily basis," Hicks said. "They’re released from jail, then they get back in the jail that society has created, having to check this box."
Lawmakers who joined Colyer for the announcement praised him for his leadership.
"When I mentioned it to some people that Gov. Colyer is bringing 'ban the box' to reality," said Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, "everybody’s like, 'Gov. Colyer’s doing what?' And I’m like, 'Yes!' Kudos to the governor. Thank you so very much."
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said she hoped the order would lead to passage of a statewide law.
"It’s the right thing to do," Wagle said. "As a faith-based nation and a faith-based state, we believe in giving everyone an opportunity. And we believe in forgiveness, and we believe in new beginnings and fresh starts."
Colyer said 30 other states have adopted "ban the box" policy, and giving offenders a foot in the door can help reduce recidivism by nearly 50 percent.
In Kansas City, Kan., the policy has led to city government hiring a handful of people with convictions in the past two years, said the city's mayor, David Alvey.
"If we really get into the experience of those who’ve been in prison, they want out," Alvey said. "And they want out, beyond out of prison. They want to make a life. And this is an opportunity for them to make a life for themselves, for their family, for their neighborhood."