Legislation that would have made it less risky for employers to hire ex-offenders is now delayed in the Illinois House of Representatives.

If enacted, House Bill 665 would limit the liability employers could face should they hire employees who have been convicted of a nonviolent or nonsexual crime.

“When ex-offenders can’t find work, they’re more likely to re-enter prison," Hilary Gowins, director of content strategy at the Illinois Policy Institute, told the Cook County Record. "Nearly 50 percent of ex-offenders in Illinois are back in prison within three years. On the other side, studies have found that when former offenders become employed within two months of release, they are less likely to be incarcerated a year later.”

Ex-offenders who become employed within a year of their release have a 16 percent recidivism rate, according to research from the Safer Foundation.

“A few states have adopted better practices for employer liability," Gowins said. "Since 2010, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York and Texas have all passed negligent-hiring liability laws. Illinois does provide some negligent hiring liability protection, but it is only a start. The state offers some negligent hiring liability protection for employers that hire former offenders who have been issued certificates of relief from disabilities and good conduct, for example.”

Gowins said other states that offer protection against negligence lawsuits include Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Ohio. In these states, employers have “qualified immunity” from lawsuits when a criminal record is the only evidence of negligence.

“By adopting smart reforms, these states are helping ex-offenders and taxpayers alike," Gowins said. "Each instance of recidivism ... costs taxpayers more than $100,000. The chance at a good job helps end this vicious cycle, allowing ex-offenders to build a better livelihood for themselves and their families.”

Gowins said updating Illinois’ negligent hiring law would be an important step for businesses. It would give them more freedom and less fear about hiring the person they feel is best qualified for a position.

“Employers are rightly concerned about liability issues related to hiring," Gowins said. "Employer liability rules should be limited to cases in which an employer knew of an employee’s conviction, the charge was directly related to the nature of the employee’s work, and the conduct that gave rise to the alleged injury is the basis for the lawsuit."

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