Starting next summer, Portland's job market could be more welcoming to ex-offenders hoping to put their criminal history behind them and find a new job.
The Portland City Council unanimously approved stronger rules Wednesday designed to give former felons and other people with a criminal history a better opportunity to win over potential bosses during the hiring process without having to discuss their past.
As of July 1, 2016, many Portland business owners won't be allowed to ask about a prospective employee's criminal history until after they've offered the candidate a job.
Mayor Charlie Hales, who introduced the plan, credited community leaders in the labor movement and with the Urban League of Portland for their "cry for justice" that brought the issue to the council's attention.
Hales said he hoped the rules would help change employers' minds and hearts, while also putting to rest labels such as "ex-cons" used to generalize the millions of Americans who've spent time in prison.
"People who've paid their debt in the criminal justice system shouldn't have to carry that label," Hales said.
Commissioner Steve Novick said it was a "tremendous day for Portland," calling the added protections a civil rights matter on par with the 2013 paid sick leave ordinance.
The new rules don't apply to businesses with fewer than six employees. Special exemptions also apply to law enforcement and criminal justice jobs, volunteer positions or for jobs that require working with children, the elderly, people with disabilities or other vulnerable groups.
The regulations include added protections that forbid employers from considering arrests that didn't lead to a conviction, expunged criminal histories, or charges that were dropped if the offender went through a deferral program for crimes that don't involve "physical harm or attempted physical harm to a person."
Portland will contract with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries to enforce the new rules.
Hales made the ban the box regulations a key policy goal in his State of the City Address in January. In March, Hales held a public hearing on the topic, but he then tabled the plan in the face of opposition from the chamber of commerce.
Meanwhile state lawmakers took action.
Gov. Kate Brown signed a ban the box bill into law this summer, but Hales said the state's version didn't go far enough. The state law would allow businesses to ask about a candidate's criminal history during the interview phase. The state law is effective Jan. 1.
At a public hearing last week, the Portland Business Alliance asked the City Council to hold off on passing additional rules. The chamber wanted to give the state law a chance to work.
The City Council ultimately disagreed.