JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A proposal in the Missouri Legislature seeks to give convicted felons a second chance in pursuing a career.
A House committee this week approved a law that would ease restrictions on convicted felons in the workplace. Among other things, people with felony convictions aren't allowed to sell alcohol or lottery tickets.
Kansas City restaurant operator Anton Kotar told the Kansas City Star he's hired 25 people with felony convictions. But at Anton's Taproom, he has to make sure the felons he hired as dishwashers don't go near the bar or even clear off tables where there is still alcohol in a glass.
"We're working with churches and homeless shelters, people who are trying to put together programs teaching culinary skills," Kotar said. "Problem is, I can't hire them. Until the law changes, I have to be leery and have to be cognizant of where these guys are in the building so we aren't in violation."
The measure has bipartisan support, and it has the backing of groups ranging from the ACLU of Missouri to the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association.
"Being convicted of a felony shouldn't automatically disqualify someone from an entry-level job, especially when they've served their time and are trying to find ways to begin the process of re-entry into society," said Sen. Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican sponsoring the legislation.
The issue was brought to his attention by Columbia criminal defense attorney Jennifer Bukowsky. She had observed for years how the law created a stumbling block for people trying to turn their lives around.
"Right now, the job opportunities for felons in Missouri are generally limited to construction and fast food," Bukowsky said. "This legislation would immediately and materially expand the job openings for which these individuals may apply."
Sara Baker, legislative and policy director for the ACLU of Missouri, said the legislation was "about giving people a second chance."
Sen. Kiki Curls, a Kansas City Democrat, is co-sponsor in the Senate. The House version of the bill is sponsored by two Republicans from Boone County and Democratic Rep. Bruce Franks, of St. Louis.
Kotar, speaking recently in Jefferson City, told lawmakers that the ban on felons selling liquor or lottery tickets is "a crazy law, in my opinion."
"Who among us has not done something that we wish we could take back?" he asked.