PHOENIX -- Arizona is joining more than two dozen other states to give convicted felons a foot in the door for employment.
In an executive order Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey directed state personnel officials to "ban the box,'' eliminating any questions on initial job applications about whether a person has a criminal record.
None of that keeps the question from coming up. But the concept, according to the governor, is to ensure that people are not eliminated from even being considered.
"This is to allow people that have paid their debt to society, who have served their time, to have some hope of a job or a career or an opportunity,'' Ducey said.
The idea is not new. The National Employment Law Project reports 29 states already have similar laws or policies in place.
NELP also says nine states have eliminated the question for private employers, something the governor's executive order does not do.
In May, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution that removed the question about prior convictions or guilty pleas from applications for county jobs.
In September, the city of Flagstaff followed suit by removing the question “Have you ever been convicted of or pled guilty to an offense as an adult, including DUI and reckless driving offenses (excluding minor traffic violations)?" from its employment applications, following direction from the city council to remove questions about prior convictions.
The county’s human resources department was tasked with determining which positions will still require background checks. The city will continue to conduct pre-employment background checks, which include criminal history.
Several other Arizona cities including Tucson, Tempe and Phoenix also have similar policies.
But Ducey, who has pushed for programs for years to prevent recidivism, has put something else into the new plan: Money for transportation.
Under a deal with Uber, the ride-sharing company will put up $5,000 to help people get to their job sites if public transit is not available, whether because of geography or simply the time of day. That is contingent on a dollar-for-dollar match from the state which the governor's office said will be provided out of existing funds within the Department of Corrections.
Ducey said that change in applications for jobs in state government is designed to ensure at least some of these inmates get a chance to make their case to state agencies that they're good employment prospects.
The governor said that, at some point, the question of an applicant's criminal record will become part of the job interview and screening. And he said it will be at that point when it is determined if the crime is relevant.
"We're going to continue to protect public safety,'' Ducey said. "We're going to make sure to the best of our ability we're hiring the right people and putting them in the right places.''
So, for example, none of this will affect the hiring process for the state Department of Public Safety.
But the governor said it's important to provide some options for former inmates to make a living -- options other than returning to a life of crime.
"What can we do when we're having thousands of people that are coming out of our state prisons if there's not an opportunity provided to them,'' he said. "They don't have an opportunity to do anything except make a bad decision.''
Nothing in the order affects -- or could affect -- private companies.
"I don't set policy for private employers,'' the governor said. "We're trying to lead the way in terms of examples from state government.''
Still, Ducey conceded he understands their reticence.
"I think this is something that people may not understand, people like myself that are 'law-and-order' individuals and want to see a safe community,'' he explained. "I'm hopeful that some other private sector employers will follow suit.''
Ducey said this is similar to a policy he enacted earlier this year that allows state employees at many agencies to bring their newborns to work "so they didn't have to make a decision between career and family, they could continue to have that bond.'' The governor said he has heard that some private companies are now doing the same thing.
The announcement about the application process comes as the state trotted out details for placing a new "re-entry center'' for released inmates who have committed some violation of their release conditions and otherwise would wind up back in prison.
Under Arizona law, offenders are released after serving 85 percent of their sentence. But they remain under "community supervision'' for the balance of their term.
Sometimes, a former inmate in that category fails a drug test or some other condition of release but has not committed any new crimes.
Before the re-entry center, the Department of Corrections could either ignore the violation or put the person back behind bars. Under the latter option, the person would lose a job and housing.
The centers, first proposed by Ducey in 2016, provide a place for the former inmate to spend a few weekends locked up while also getting drug counseling. But they are released during the week to keep their jobs.
An existing facility in North Phoenix -- one that provoked opposition from neighbors who were not notified first -- will be closed. Aides to the governor also said the central location is closer to employers.
And existing pre-release employment centers operated in several prisons will also be consolidated there.
PHOENIX -- A former state attorney general wants Arizonans to vote to constitutionally ban anonymous donations from political campaigns.
Terry Goddard is crafting a "right to know'' initiative that would guarantee in the state constitution that voters are entitled to know who is trying to sway their votes on who to elect for everything from statewide offices to school board members. The measure which Goddard hopes to put to voters a year from now, also would impose the same requirements on those pushing future ballot measures.
Campaign consultant Bob Grossfeld said the effort starts with redefining for voters exactly what it is they are trying to curb. And that comes down to using new terminology.
"We're done with this whole 'dark money' nonsense,'' Grossfeld said, the term that has become synonymous in political rhetoric with dollars coming from unknown sources. But he said that's technically neither a legal term nor even one with an actual formal definition.
"We look at this as 'dirty money,' '' he said.
"This is no different than criminal syndicates who are laundering money,'' Grossfeld said. "It's for the same purposes: to hide the people behind it.''
And he rejected claims by some interests who fought similar measures in the past that such disclosure mandates would impact the free speech rights of individuals.
"Folks can get out there,'' Grossfeld said.
"They can say whatever they want, run commercials, run ads, whatever, even if they're unsavory,'' he continued."What this is doing is establishing in the Arizona Constitution our right to know who's paying for it."
Goddard, a Democrat who was elected as attorney general in 2002 and won a second term four years later, already formed a campaign committee this past week which allows him to begin raising money for the task of getting the measure on the 2018 ballot.
Grossfeld said the final language is still being tweaked. But he said the bottom line is designed to expose anyone who puts at least $10,000 into any campaign, whether for public office or a ballot measure.
Arizona law already requires anyone who spends money to influence a campaign to file reports.
But there's an exception: Groups that are organized under the Internal Revenue Code as "social welfare'' organizations contend they are not required to disclose their donors. So the only thing the public knows is that some group, often with a name that may have no link to the sponsors, has dumped cash into a campaign.
That has become an increasing problem for voters interested in finding out who is behind commercials, mailers and other campaign materials.
In the 2014 gubernatorial race, for example, the $5 million spent on the general election directly by Republican Doug Ducey and Democrat Fed DuVal was eclipsed by the $9 million others spent trying to influence the race. Most of that cash flowed in Ducey's benefit.
And two Republicans got elected to the Arizona Corporation Commission with more than $3 million spent by outside groups. Arizona Public Service, the state's largest utility that is regulated by the commission, has consistently refused to confirm or deny whether it was the source of any of that cash.
A related issue goes to what might be called "chain'' donations, where individual A gives money to organization B, which then funnels it to a third organization that does the ultimate spending on the race.
Grossfeld said the language of the initiative would force disclosure of all major sources of funding. And he said it is worded in a way so that it pierces the multi-step donations, requiring that the ultimate sources of the dollars be disclosed, not only in reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office but also in advertising, mailers and other campaign materials.
"It creates a right for citizens, in the constitution,'' Grossfeld said. "And that's a right to know, specifically, the source of campaign funds.''
None of this would help voters when choosing presidential or congressional candidates. Grossfeld said states have no say over federal campaign finance laws.
This isn't the first time Goddard has attempted to force public disclosure.
In 2016 he paired with former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson who was pushing his own ballot measure for open primaries. But both collapsed when funding ran out.
Grossfeld said several things are different this time.
The first is that the campaign spending measure against what he calls "dirty money'' will stand on its own and not be linked to other ballot issues.
And Grossfeld said he and Goddard believe they can gather the 225,963 valid signatures needed by July 5 to qualify for the ballot solely with volunteers, minimizing the need for up-front cash.
He said they have the backing of members of Save Our Schools Arizona, the group that managed to gather enough signatures to force a referendum on legislation to vastly expand the system of vouchers that allows parents to use public dollars to send their children to private and parochial schools.
Spokeswoman Dawn Penich-Thacker said her organization has not taken an official position. But she confirmed that key members of the group are working on the issue because they have common interests.
More to the point, they have a common foe, if you will: the Koch brothers.
Americans for Prosperity, a group financed by the billionaires, already is involved in a lawsuit designed to keep the referendum from ever making the ballot.
Separately, the brothers are financing the Libre Initiative which is is targeting Hispanic households nationwide in an effort to get support for vouchers -- and oppose ballot proposals like Save Our Schools -- with what Penich-Thacker contends is misinformation about who benefits from funneling state dollars into private schools.
Any change, however, would provide only limited help to groups like hers. Under current laws, the only information that voters would get if and when the referendum is on the ballot next year is that the Libre Initiative put a certain number of dollars into defeating it, with no requirement to tell voters which individuals and groups provided financing, and in what amounts.
Goddard's political career also includes six years as mayor of Phoenix in the 1980s and two unsuccessful bids for governor, losing to Republicans Fife Symington in 1990 and Jan Brewer two decades later.