House rejects ‘ban-the-box’ college admissions bill

Illinois college admissions Jeff Keicher
State Rep. Jeff Keicher (R-Sycamore) speaks on the House floor in Springfield in opposition to House Bill 217, which would have eliminated the box option for criminal offenders wishing to attend college. (Illinois House GOP courtesy photo)

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — The Illinois House rejected a “ban-the-box” bill that opponents said could make college campuses more dangerous.

The measure would have prohibited any college or university in the state from asking about or considering an applicant’s criminal history during the admissions process. State Rep. Jeff Keicher (R-Sycamore) represents the 70th District, which includes Northern Illinois University.

“When … we are going to have 17- and 18-year old children gone from home for the first time in their life, we need to take it upon ourselves to make sure they are in as safe of an environment as possible,” Keicher said.

HB217 was defeated 40-60 on a bipartisan vote last week in the House. Supporters had argued there’s no need to ask about criminal history when considering an applicant, and that question itself could dissuade people from even filling out the forms. Keicher said data from NIU indicates it’s not that big of a problem.

“Of 132 applicants who checked the box, only seven were denied entry to Northern Illinois University,” Keicher said. “Of the seven not admitted, six were because they didn’t meet the basic academic criteria for enrollment. Only one of the 132 was denied entry in the fall of 2017 due to the felony conviction that was referenced.”

Supporters also made the case that any person who has paid his or her debt to society should be encouraged to seek additional education.

“What I have insisted all along is it isn’t a bad idea to forgive past misdeeds,” Keicher said. “It’s the crime that we want the universities to be able to consider. If we need to put that question on the back-end of the application process to allow admittance, then let’s do it. But let’s allow the opportunity for the university to decide when and where their students are going to be most safe.”

Keicher said he and others are open to allowing schools to ask the question after an applicant is admitted, but he never heard from the bill’s sponsor about a compromise.

“I’m a little disappointed in that, because we had an opportunity to maybe do something that could help a number of communities and maybe encourage additional people on campus,” Keicher said. “That didn’t come to pass. We will look to fight this battle on another front unless we see the changes we need.”

Keicher also received a letter from the NIU Student Senate expressing support for a post-admission question, a piece of evidence he said was the main reason the bill was opposed by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

“In a day and age like we have today in Illinois, where we have a Democrat super-majority in both houses and a Democrat governor, reason still can prevail if you share the information.”

The state Senate currently is working on a similar bill, which could return to the House this year.

Reporting by Scot Bertram

The Center Square -- formerly known as Watchdog.org and the Illinois News Network -- and their reporters represent 18 states across the United States as the taxpayers' watchdog, exposing the way government really works.

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