Statement from Minority Leader John Testa on “Ban the Box” Law

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Testa warns legislative agenda is “Death by a Thousand Cuts”
to Westchester County small businesses.

On Monday, December 4, 2018, my Democrat colleagues on the Board of Legislators (with the exception of one Democrat) passed a Local Law (by a 11-5 vote) that prohibits businesses in Westchester County from asking if a job applicant has been convicted of a serious crime. This legislation is an outrageous overreach into private business and a continuation of their assault on the small business community. I disagreed with County Executive Latimer when he ordered that the county will not ask about job applicants’ criminal history but I accept that it is his prerogative as the executive branch of our government to set those policies for county employment. But to legislate that private businesses can no longer establish their own standards for what type of character and integrity they require in an employee- using past criminal activity as a guide- is a disturbing level of government interference in private business.

BanTheBox2The legislation which has most often been called “ban the box” (referring to a box that must be checked on a job application related to criminal convictions) the current legislation has had a few name changes as the laws sponsors sought to make it sound like some moral imperative. Another name that the sponsors tried was “Fair Chance to Work Act”. They finally arrived at the current title, “Local Law to Prohibit Discrimination based on one’s criminal conviction”. Thankfully we have a number of federal employment protections for job applicants like race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group. These are protected classes because they are characteristics not indicators of character.  An individual who has committed a criminal act is not a member of a protected class and therefore a small business owner is not practicing discrimination if they choose to disqualify those applicants, this legislation also requires employers- who may have any number of applicants for a position to offer a ‘written analysis’ to job applicants if they are not hired. This is an affront to the notion of private enterprise.

New York State has long held the dubious distinction as the most inhospitable environment for small businesses in the United States. Unfortunately, since taking control of the Board of Legislators last year, after four years of bipartisan cooperation, my Democrat colleagues have embraced this anti-business posture in a series of legislative actions that hurt small businesses and put them at a competitive disadvantage in our region. Dictating what should be the purview of private business decisions like forcing small businesses with as few as 5 part-time employees to pay for sick leave will have a profound impact on a small business. (our request to negotiate a compromise that would exclude businesses with less than 10 employees was ignored) The sponsors of the paid sick leave must have understood the law’s negative impact since they excluded Westchester County from following the paid sick leave law for hourly county employees.

BanTheBox1Other legislative overreach into private business practices include legislation that prohibits small business owners from asking about a prospective employees prior salary, dictating application processes to private residential cooperative building associations, proposed red light cameras that will put further strain on commerce- especially Westchester County retail businesses, passing legislation that raises licensing fees for independent home improvement contractors both now and again in a year by almost 50%.

I am all for giving individuals a second chance, it has been a mantra of mine my entire adult life as an educator and elected official and many business owners do the same as a matter of choice. To legislate and force business to ignore criminal records of a prospective employee is overreaching at its worst.

Small businesses are the real engine of employment in our county and I believe a continuation of this near-sighted agenda will result in a “Death by a Thousand Cuts” for some those businesses. It will also make it far more difficult for economic development organizations in our business community to attract and retain the critical small and mid-size businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy. It will cost jobs and further inhibit the success of local small businesses.

While social activism is an important function in society and the Democrats on the BOL have absolute control of the legislative agenda, handing over the reins of the legislative branch to social activists must be balanced against the needs of those who keep our economy going, the risk takers, the employers and entrepreneurs of Westchester County.

About John G. Testa

Former District 1 County Legislator, John G. Testa is served five terms at the Westchester County Board of Legislators, spending the last 3 terms as BOL Minority Leader. John G. Testa is a lifelong resident of Peekskill who first entered elected public service as a member of the Peekskill Common Council in 1998 and then served three terms as Mayor. He previously served on the Conservation and Parks Advisory Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. John became an elected official eager to improve the City in which his family has lived for more than a century and quickly earned a reputation as a strong, independent, nonpartisan voice for fiscal responsibility. John received a BS degree in Technology from SUNY Oswego, where his academic achievements gained him induction into Epsilon Pi Tau, the International Honorary Fraternity of Technology. He earned his MS degree in Technology from the City College of New York. He began his teaching career in 1980 at Peekskill High School, his alma mater, as an instructor in Technology and Social Studies, retiring in 2013 after 33 years teaching. John has been a leader in support for the Arts Community in Westchester. He presided over the construction of the Peekskill Art Lofts, the establishment of the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, and the complete restoration of the Paramount Center for the Arts, originally a 1930’s movie house and helped bring critical funding to many Westchester programs. Legislator Testa received the “Advancing the Arts in Westchester Award” by ArtsWestchester. John has a been a leader on environmental issues for two decades and has a long record of initiatives he has supported and spearheaded. His active involvement in developing and promoting environmentally friendly policies began as mayor and continued throughout his time as Westchester County Legislator. His efforts consistently earned John the endorsement of the NY League of Conservation Voters. John’s most recognizable accomplishment has been his promotion and preservation of local history and historic landmarks, bringing an unprecedented focus on the region’s rich history, and its legacy of historic Victorian architecture. His roots in historical preservation stem from his experience as a Revolutionary War re-enactor and member of The Brigade of the American Revolution for 50 years. John was instrumental in securing the preservation of the Lincoln Depot, now the Lincoln Depot Museum, where he now serves as President. The museum was recognized in 2015 as one of The Best Museums in Westchester. He also secured the preservation of historic Fort Hill as parkland, a 40-acre parcel that was originally a Revolutionary War encampment site. Under his leadership, the United States Dept. of the Interior declared Peekskill a “Preserve America Community.” John was able to establish a record number of National Register designations of local structures, including the first Downtown and Neighborhood Historic Districts and supported the preservation of the historic Miller House in North White Plains. In 2017 John was named a “Champion of History” by the Lincoln Society in Peekskill. John and his wife of 37 years, Nancy, live in Peekskill and have two adult children, John, Jr. (fiancé Courtney Kelly) and Katy (husband Mike Mearon). John and Nancy recently welcomed the arrival of their first grandchild, Lacey Mae, in 2019.
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