Legislature passes bill that would help felons get jobs

Published 8:39 am Thursday, April 17, 2014

NASHVILLE (AP) — It took five weeks, dozens of applications and one rejection after another for convicted felon Jennifer Cunningham to find a low-paying job in a restaurant. The Spencer, Tenn., woman is hoping that a bill that was just passed in the legislature might give her the opportunity for a better job in the future.
“I don’t want to be working in a burger joint for the rest of my life,” said Cunningham, during an interview at the Davidson County Drug Court, where she is being treated for methamphetamine addiction after being convicted of bringing drugs to jail after being arrested for shoplifting.
The state legislature has passed a bill that may make it easier for some felons who have turned their lives around to find a job, or in Cunningham’s case, have more employers open up doors. The bill is being hailed by some as an important step in the right direction to keeping people from turning back to a life of crime.
Passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, the measure would allow courts to issue a certificate of employability to convicted felons who have stayed out of trouble. It would also grant some legal protection from lawsuits to employers who hire someone who has the court-issued certificate.
The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Republican from Germantown. Rep. Karen Camper, a Democrat from Memphis, sponsored the House version of the bill.
Kelsey said the measure encourages public safety because people are less likely to turn back to crime if they have a job.
“This just ensures that people who have paid their debt to society will be given the opportunity to work, and that’s what I hope this will accomplish,” Kelsey said.
Prosecutors would be given the opportunity to object if they believe the person doesn’t deserve the certificate.
The bill would also make it easier for those with the employment certificate to get professional licenses in certain jobs.
Gov. Bill Haslam has yet to sign the bill.

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