There has been alot of hype already this legislative session focused on severely limiting state assistance, many times in ways that disproportionately impact women, people with disabilities, and lawfully present immigrants and refugees, among others. Unfortunately, as reported in the local media, many are targeted "on the basis of negative stereotypes of people milking the system, not on facts."
Both advocates for the poor and those in the State House seem to agree that the best way to get most people off of public benefits is for them to be able to work. How that is accomplished is the million dollar question.
One way to open doors is by ensuring that already marginalized individuals are given a chance to succeed, including those with criminal records.
There is a oft cited statistic - about 95% of those currently in Maine jails and prisons will one day return to our communities. And it is also well known that the best way to support these men and women not to return to crime is for them to have stable homes, jobs, routine and income.
Unfortunately, in today's tough economic times, jobs are already incredibly sparse. For those with a criminal record, times are even tougher. Despite the old adage that those released have "paid their debt to society", these individuals face dramatic discrimination based on their status.
One Maine lawmaker, Representative Mark Bryant, has brought forward a bill to try to address this issue. The bill, LD 152, would bar discrimination based solely on prior conviction (with exceptions made for crimes that have a reasonable relationship to the job at issue), providing people with a chance to get and retain employment based on other factors, such as skill, experience, fit and work ethic.
One outspoken supporter of the bill was Margo Davies, a Maine resident who owns and runs an employment agency that hires ex-felons. She spoke passionately at the public hearing about the how both she and her business has benefitted by giving people a second chance based on more than a label.
And the rest of us stand to benefit as well - through reduced recidivism, and the benefits to our communities from work and tax contributions.
An Act to Prohibit Employment Discrimination Based on a Prior Criminal Conviction was heard before the Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development on Wednesday, February 16th and there is a work session scheduled this upcoming Wednesday, February 23rd.
Please contact your Senator or Representative and tell them to support LD 152.