Let's take another moment to reflect upon Monday's victories: the Star Ledger's endorsement of the Opportunity to Compete Act (A3837) and the Assembly Labor Committee's vote to advance the bill. In the midst of doubt over whether the bill would move, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15), a primary sponsor of the bill, responded within a week by gathering enough support to put the bill on the Labor Committee agenda and rallying proponents to vote the bill out of committee. The vote to advance the bill has roused momentum for this critically important piece of legislation. While we still have much work ahead of us, the arc indeed is bending closer and closer to justice.
The principal issue of the day was how the Opportunity to Compete Act would impact businesses. While business lobbyists tried to convince the Committee that the bill would increase business liability, this proposition was summarily refuted by Douglas S. Eakeley, Esq., a partner at Lowenstein Sandler LLP and Professor of Corporate and Business Law at Rutgers School of Law-Newark. Doug stated, "These arguments are nothing other than scare tactics. The idea that this bill would expose businesses to liability is purely fanciful." The lobbyists' other suggestion-that the bill would cause businesses to incur increased administrative costs or hiring delay-was refuted by Zachary Lipner, Vice President of Human Resources for Barnabas Health. Mr. Lipner testified that for the past year Newark Beth Israel, a member of Barnabas Health Group, has been living under a Newark Ordinance similar to the Opportunity to Compete Act, and it has been completely unproblematic. At the end of the day, the Labor Committee's vote to approve A3837 signals the Committee's rejection of the business lobbyists' scare tactics. The resounding business case for the Opportunity to Compete Act can be heard in the online archived audio record of the December 16th hearing.
At a press conference immediately preceding the Committee vote, Assemblywoman Watson Coleman said, "This represents an issue of fairness and balance and that's what we have to keep in mind. It doesn't force employers to hire anyone with a criminal record, and it doesn't force them to hire anyone who is not ready, willing, and capable of doing the job that he or she is interested in. It protects the interests of business from frivolous complaints or actions, and at the same time it provides a model to conduct business in such a way that you have access to some of the best employees that you could possibly have."
Senator Sandra B. Cunningham (D-31), the Senate sponsor of the legislation, added, "Not only does this legislation ensure that the 1 out of 4 adults with a criminal record receive fair consideration when applying for a job, it also protects and inoculates businesses. We have made more than a dozen major revisions to the bill as a direct result of our fruitful conversations with New Jersey's leading business associations, including the New Jersey Business and Industry Association (NJBIA), beginning all the way back in March 2012."
Cornell William Brooks, Esq., President and Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice listed a few of the numerous business protections that have been built into the bill: "We have protected small businesses by exempting employers with fewer than 15 employees. We have also protected businesses from lawsuits. First, no one can sue an employer under this act. Period. Second, this bill would give businesses the highest protection against negligent hiring suits of any state in the nation. Lastly, remember this legislation postpones but does not eliminate the criminal background question. This legislation is about the resume then the record, not the record then the trash can."
Let's keep the momentum going:
Please Contact the Governor and Your State Legislators in Support of A3837