Concerns about possible illegal discrimination against former criminals caused a proposed new policy on background checks for prospective county employees to be tabled at a Niagara County Legislature committee meeting Monday.
County Manager Gregory D. Lewis agreed to Legislator Renae Kimble's suggestion that the policy should be submitted to the state Human Rights Commission to make sure nothing in it is illegal. But he said he wants to see a vote on the policy next month.
"If a person is denied a job because they have a criminal record, that is a violation of human rights law," said Kimble, D-Niagara Falls. "I don't want the county to be hung up with a law that can be used as subterfuge for discriminating against people with criminal records."
Lewis said the policy was drafted by an outside attorney and vetted by the county attorney's office, too.
"There's been a lot of effort to ensure compliance," Lewis said. "Everything there seems to comply with human rights claims that can be made."
The policy says the county "does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of arrests or convictions." It says a criminal record won't be used to deny employment unless existing laws say such a disqualification "is specifically permitted or required."
Other conditions that would bar criminals from county jobs include "a direct relationship between the one or more previous criminal offenses and the employment sought, or [if] the granting of the employment sought would involve an unreasonable risk to property or the safety or welfare of individuals or the general public."
The Legislature passed a resolution in 2004 requiring such background checks for all job applicants and making the applicants pay $20 for them. Lewis is proposing a new law which would have the county absorb the cost of the background checks by the Sheriff's Office.
The new proposal says the state Division of Criminal Justice Services is asking for a local law that would justify the submission of noncriminal fingerprints to its staff for checking.
State law already requires criminal background checks for workers at nursing homes, home care agencies and mental-health agencies, all of which the county operates.
Legislator Rebecca E. Cuddahee, D-Niagara Falls, said she had no objection to a human rights review. She co-sponsored the 2004 law with Legislator Danny W. Sklarski, D-Town of Niagara.