A bill that would bar an employer from conducting a criminal background check on job candidates during the pre-application and application process has been approved by an Assembly committee.

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Under the measure, the application process begins when a candidate inquires about employment and ends when an employer has extended a conditional offer of employment.

The legislation is called the “Opportunity to Compete Act.” The measure also known as the “Ban the Box” bill in reference the box job applicants are asked to check off if they’ve been convicted of a crime. It’s sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bonnie Watson Coleman and Jerry Green among others.

"We know that eliminating barriers to employment is a key component of a sensible policy to promote growth and economic development,” said Watson Coleman (D-Trenton). “As a result of this bill, hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents will have access to the American Dream, a chance to rise or fall on your own merit.”

New Jersey would be the 11th state to adopt such a law, according to the National Employment Labor Project, which also found more than 50 cities and counties with such a law. Employers are subject to civil fines for failure to comply with the provisions of the bill ranging from $500 to $7,500 depending on the number of employees the employer has and whether the employer has committed previous violations.

“I am constantly contacted by people who simply want an opportunity to compete,” said Green (D-Plainfield). “Many of these applicants get eliminated from consideration simply by marking off a box, many of them productive, creative and capable workers.”

Assembly Republicans believe the bill will lead to less hiring and more lawsuits.