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L.A. mayor urges less emphasis on criminal records in hiring, housing

By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) - The mayor of Los Angeles voiced support on Friday for a new state law barring public agencies from refusing job applications from people convicted of a crime and is pushing city leaders to broaden the measure to private-sector jobs and housing.

Mayor Eric Garcetti's show of support came as concerns grow nationally that millions of people who have been to prison, particularly from minority communities, have little prospect of landing a job once they admit to a conviction.

"We don’t want to prejudge somebody who might turn out to be the best employee in the entire department," Garcetti said in a speech. "We don’t want people returning to prison."

Under the law, which takes effect next month, state and local governments in California will generally not be allowed to ask about a candidate's criminal record on the initial application. They may ask later in the process. Jobs involving law enforcement or working with children are exempted.

Garcetti would also like to see criminal record checks eliminated from applications for subsidized housing, and wants businesses to follow the city's lead in job applications, said his spokesman, Jeff Millman.

Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who introduced the state law, said the aim was to prevent applicants from being rejected outright, before hiring managers get to know them.

"Let people have a foot in the door, give them a chance to be considered on their qualifications," said Dickinson.

Nationally, 61 cities including New York, Washington and Philadelphia have adopted similar policies, according to the National Employment Law Project, which estimates one in four U.S. adults has a record of arrest or conviction.

Opponents say some such measures go too far.

A bill making its way through the California Legislature would eliminate a prohibition against certifying people as nurse's aides if they have been convicted of felonies including murder, extortion and sex crimes.

The measure is meant to require the state to look beyond the conviction to see if someone has been rehabilitated, said Charles Stewart, a spokesman for the bill's author, state Senator Holly Mitchell.

But Peter DeMarco, a spokesman for Senate Republicans, said the measure could expose vulnerable people to criminals.

"You’re talking about people who are working in nursing homes, one of the main points of daily contact for our parents and grandparents," DeMarco said. "There’s certainly been no shortage of reports of abuse by people in similar situations."

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif., Editing by Peter Cooney)

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