Ga. lawmaker says Augusta's 'second-chance' policy could be example for statewide law

Tuesday, March 3, 2020
News 12 NBC 26

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - More than four million people in Georgia have a criminal record, according to the GBI.

Some state lawmakers are trying to give many of those people a second chance.

Several bills are working their way through the Georgia Legislature, and local Senator Harold Jones says Augusta is ahead of the curve on this issue.

Commissioners changed county ordinance a couple years ago to "Ban the Box" which removes the criminal record question from city job applications. The policy says applicants do not undergo criminal background checks until they are a finalist for the job.

"You never really know or understand everything about a person, so what's wrong with giving someone an opportunity to change or to show that they've changed?" said Dennis Williams, an Augusta commissioner.

Commissioner Williams says that's why leaders started pushing 'banning the box' in the first place.

"It's given us a larger pool of employees to choose from," Williams said.

A similar policy statewide could give Georgia millions more to choose from, lawmakers say.

Some legislators say it's past due.

"There was a recognition that we were behind, so we are still kind of playing catch up," said Sen. Harold Jones. "So this is one area we are trying to catch up on."

Sen. Jones says Senate Bill 288 would catch them up quickly.

"Under this particular law, you actually could have a conviction," he said. "But after 10 years, if you did not have another conviction of a felony nature, it would then be eligible for record restriction."

Sen. Jones says lawmakers are concerned about opening the door to felony convictions and others about issues surrounding dismissed cases.

But, he thinks the state should follow the example Augusta's already set.

"It is an economic argument," Sen. Jones said. "It's also the right thing to do. But, certainly from an economic standpoint, it helps persons integrate better into society as far as getting jobs."

Legislators say they are trying to get a vote by next week to decide if this bill will move forward.