New bill to lift restrictions on felons in the workforce

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JEFFERSON CITY – A House committee approved a bill to allow people with prior convictions to work in places that sell alcohol and lottery tickets.

Steve Smith, CEO of Job Point in Columbia, said the bill would open doors for the people he works with every day.  

“Its one small piece of a very complicated puzzle. It would open more opportunities, so from that standpoint we’re for that,” Smith said. “It certainly won’t solve the issue of hiring felons of all types, but we are seeing much more openness.”

Job point coaches people seeking jobs on what to say in interviews.

“We’re really trying to see that employers will give people a chance to tell their story and go through the process,” Smith said.

Patrick Tuohey of the Show-Me Institute said the bill will give more people a chance to rebuild.

“Certainly for people who are ex-offenders in Missouri it can be very difficult after they have served their term to find gainful employment,” Tuohey said. “Just having a felony conviction alone is difficult.”

Tuohey said there are more than 200 prohibitions in state law for employing someone with a felony background, stopping the employment process before it even begins.

“Some of those may be appropriate, but most of them are not,” Tuohey said. “The purpose I think, of rehabilitation or any criminal justice program should be to make sure people who have served their time are able to reenter society and work and become productive people.”

The bill gives employers in the state more options when hiring.

“In some instances for liquor retailers and lottery retailers that a felony conviction does not mean that they may not work there,” Tuohey said. “It doesn’t require that they be hired and it doesn’t offer incentives to hire them. It simply says an employer may hire them if they wish.”

Tuohey said employers are gaining more freedom, but what they do with it is their choice.

“If you are hiring at a liquor store and you don’t want somebody that has a felony conviction for armed robbery that makes perfect sense and post adoption you would still be able to not hire that person, but the law today says that you may not hire a felon regardless of the circumstance of their conviction,” Tuohey said. 

He said as long as the crime is unrelated, a person with a felony should be given a chance.  

“There are people who are ex-offenders, who have felony convictions whose crime does not have anything to do with alcohol or gambling or lottery tickets and there’s simply not reason to bar them simply because they have a conviction,” Tuohey said.

The bill was voted on last week and will be reported on by the committee chair before being submitted to the senate floor.