Bill banning exclusion of unemployed in job ads advances

Bill banning exclusion of unemployed in job ads advances »Play Video
If Senate Bill 1548 becomes law, it could help job seekers like Jerry Barza who've been out of work for an extended period of time.

SALEM, Ore. – Oregon lawmakers advanced a bill Wednesday that bans businesses from excluding unemployed applicants in their helped wanted ads.

While Senate Bill 1548 doesn't have any opposition, it nearly died after at least one member powerful enough to kill the bill expressed concerns about it.

Under the bill, Oregon businesses would be fined $1,000 by the state for writing in their job ads that unemployed applicants will not be considered.

The other key issue was whether applicants could sue a company. The bill doesn't allow new lawsuits against companies and it also doesn't stop employers from actually excluding unemployed candidates once they have their resume.

But questions linger over whether it could lead to broader protections for the unemployed that businesses might oppose.

"It does raise the question of is this the slippery slope? Is this leading towards protected class like minorities or disabled or seniors?" said Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City. "If this opened the opportunity for any employee who had this experience to sue, I think this would be a very unacceptable practice because all of a sudden we'd have huge proliferations of lawsuits."

He said he was hesitant to sign off on the bill until he was assured companies couldn't be sued.

Some supporters of SB1548 say they have no interest in pursuing a special protected class for the unemployed. They're satisfied the bill is enough to discourage employers from discriminating against the unemployed.

Rep. Jefferson Smith, D-Portland, did not rule out that possibility, though. He said he wanted to wait and see what happens.

If passed, the bill could help people like Jerry Barza who began searching for his next job more than three years ago.

"All I'm asking for is a chance to prove myself that I could work," he said. His life has been an ongoing struggle since suffering a heart attack in 2008.

Barza said he wishes the bill made it illegal to discriminate at any point in the hiring process based on employment status.

"We unemployed people need to be protected because that kind of puts us in our own category of, 'Well you're not good enough because you're not working.'"

The bill passed a House committee vote. It now goes to the full House and if approved there it would need only the governor's signature to become law.