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With veto, colleges can ask about criminal history

Rachel Baye

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed on Friday legislation removing questions about criminal history from applications for admission to public colleges.

In a letter to House and Senate leaders, Hogan expressed alarm that the bill “tips the scales to the detriment of public safety.”

“We should not encourage schools to turn a blind eye to a prospective student’s potentially violent criminal background,” he wrote.

But those fears are misguided, said Caryn York, who fought for the measure as the director of policy and strategic partnerships at the Baltimore-based advocacy group Job Opportunities Task Force.

“So if you went to jail for sexual assault and rape and you’ve been released, you are now out. You’re going to grocery stores, you’re going into stores, you’re going into everywhere else,” she said. “So you mean to tell me that they can’t get a college education?”

A college education makes former felons less likely to reoffend by helping them attain economic stability, she said.

And, she said, college campuses are open to the public. Anyone can attend events on campuses, whether they are enrolled or not.

The bill allows colleges to run background checks and encourages them to use the information they have about students’ backgrounds to work with the students, said Baltimore City Del. Maggie McIntosh, who sponsored the bill.

“They look at whether or not they should live on campus and things of that sort,” she said.

Schools also advise students with criminal records away from fields that won’t license people with criminal backgrounds, such as law or pharmacy work.

McIntosh pointed out that the bill doesn’t ban questions about criminal history outright since it has no effect on the Common App, which many schools in Maryland accept.

The bill passed with broad support in both chambers of the General Assembly — more than enough votes to override a veto.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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