PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia will soon become the latest U.S. city to “ban the box,” prohibiting questions about a person’s criminal record on job applications.

The president of the NAACP plans to be in town Monday when Mayor Michael Nutter signs the law. (see related story)

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Employers can still ask candidates about the issue, but proponents say ex-offenders at least deserve a chance to get a foot in the door. They say the interviews never come if they admit their records early on.

“Americans believe in second chances. We believe that when somebody has paid their debt to society, they deserve the right to earn a living, reunite their families,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the civil rights group.

Chicago, Boston and several other cities have adopted similar measures. Some involve only public-sector jobs, but the Philadelphia law will apply to most public and private employers.

About 65 million Americans, or one in four, have a criminal record, while 90 percent of employers use criminal background checks, according to the New York-based National Employment Law Project, which released a report on the issue last month. The group argues that stable employment will help ex-offenders straighten out their lives, and save tax dollars that would otherwise go toward supporting them in or out of prison.

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“The 600,000 people that come out (of prison) a year should have a chance to live a life, and provide for their families, because they’ve already served their sentence,” said Robert Rooks, the NAACP’s director of criminal justice issues.

In Connecticut last year, Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a similar bill that had been passed by the legislature, which called the bill vague and said job applicants were already protected by anti-discrimination laws. The legislature, though, overrode the Republican governor’s veto and the law took effect Oct. 1.

Some business groups, including the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, also oppose the law. The chamber supported tax-breaks Philadelphia has offered for employers who hire ex-offenders, but fears employers would face more anti-discrimination lawsuits under the new law.

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