Missourians across the state are pushing to change laws that bar felons from working certain jobs, and lawmakers are listening.
A bill passed out of a state committee earlier this week would reverse current legislation that prohibits people convicted of a felony from participating in the sale of alcohol and lottery tickets.
Among the bill’s supporters is a Kansas City restaurant owner who is proud to hire felons for his business. As he told the Kansas City Star, the seemingly minor caveat actually has major ramifications.
Anton Kotar, who runs the restaurant Anton’s Taproom, told the paper that he has hired two dozen people with felony convictions to work in his restaurant, but because of the law, he can only give them dishwashing jobs. State inspections by liquor-control regulators keep him on his toes.
From the Star:
“We’re working with churches and homeless shelters, people who are trying to put together programs teaching culinary skills,” he 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.”
Supporters of the new bill point out that for felons in Missouri, the only feasible job opportunities are in construction and fast food. The current law locks people with felony convictions out of a multitude of entry-level jobs, including working at gas stations and convenience stores, and from working as servers, bartenders or cooks in bars and restaurants.
“This [new] legislation would immediately and materially expand the job openings for which these individuals may apply,” one criminal-defense lawyer told the Star.
Kotar, the restaurant owner, points out that washing dishes is a tiresome job with long hours, though the felons he hires are able to make a good living from the work.
He also told the paper that it’s no more difficult to find good workers among people with felony convictions than it is among any other group. In fact, he said, they tend to be harder workers than, say, college students, according to the report:
When he hires college students, he said, many just suddenly stop showing up. The people he has hired with felony records are some of his hardest workers, he said, because “they don’t want to go back to where they came from. They want to be here.”
Kotar testified in support of the bill earlier this month. The bill has garnered bipartisan support and has both Republican and Democratic sponsors.