money.jpgA proposal offering a tax break for companies that hire ex-felons was approved by a San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee today and will be sent to the full board for approval.

The legislation, authored by Supervisor and sheriff-elect Ross Mirkarimi, would offer a roughly $10,000 tax break on a San Francisco employer’s total payroll tax bill for each ex-felon that they hire.

Mirkarimi said at a hearing of the board’s Budget and Finance Committee that the proposal was “aimed at reducing the repeat offender rate,” which he said traditionally is between 65 and 70 percent in San Francisco.

The committee passed the legislation with a 2-1 vote, with Supervisor Carmen Chu, the chair of the three-member committee, being the lone supervisor to vote against it.

“To be honest, I feel very uncomfortable prioritizing this population over other needy populations, like families trying to keep their homes, and who have been unemployed the past two years,” Chu said.

Several city officials came to today’s committee hearing in support of the proposal, including Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

“Employment is probably the number one factor of if someone ultimately comes back” to jail, Adachi said. “The vast majority of crimes are crimes that stem from poverty, necessity, and stealing to survive.”

Adachi said, “Obviously everyone wants jobs, that’s a citywide priority, but what this does is simply provide a tool by which one population of individuals in need of employment has an equal opportunity to compete.”

David Cook, San Francisco’s chief deputy adult probation officer, said “The barrier of a criminal conviction lasts a lifetime, no matter how qualified a person is,” and said people with jobs are more likely to avoid substance abuse and other problems.

Larry Nelson, who works at Haight Ashbury Free Clinics-Walden House, which provides assistance to homeless and at-risk community members in the city, said he was a felon decades ago when “Walden House gave me a chance and hired me.”

Nelson said since being hired, he hasn’t been arrested in 31 years, and now works with people in the same position he was in, trying to get a job as a released convict.

Before voting to send the proposal to the full board, the committee amended it to only make the tax break eligible for convicts who are hired within three years of their release from custody.

Supervisor Jane Kim said the amendment “seems to make more sense, to focus on those released more recently and are more likely to re-offend.”

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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