01/26/2011 09:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Maryland Lawmaker Reintroduces Bill To Ban Credit Checks In Hiring Process

WASHINGTON -- For many of the 6.4 million Americans who have been unemployed for six months or longer, the prospect of finding a new job is daunting enough with a massive employment gap on their resumes. Checkered credit histories can be an even greater hurdle to clear.

In a move that may even the playing field for some of the long-term unemployed, Maryland State Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-Germantown) introduced a bill on Friday that would prohibit Maryland employers, with a few exceptions, from using a person's credit history as a screening tool for hiring and retention decisions. The Germantown delegate introduced the same bill last year without success, but similar legislation has now passed in Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Washington.

Maryland House Bill 87, called the Job Applicant Fairness Act, exempts financial institutions, including banks and credit unions, and law-enforcement agencies that are required to perform credit checks. Reznik told HuffPost that the legislation is mainly intended to help blue-collar workers.

"We're not trying to target the CFOs or the folks involved in dealing with companies' millions of dollars," he said. "We mean nurses, school teachers, janitors, plumbers ... blue-collar workers having trouble making ends meet, so that they don't have one more hurdle to overcome."

Reznik said the idea that a poor credit score says anything about one's ability to perform in a job is a myth.

"Having bad credit does not make someone a bad person," he said. "Costly medical problems, a messy divorce, and many other understandable reasons to have poor credit have nothing to do with one's ability to do a good job."

While the use of credit histories in hiring decisions is not illegal on a federal level, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a public meeting in October to hear testimony from various stakeholder groups, social scientists and the Federal Trade Commission on the growing use of credit histories as selection criteria in employment. Christine V. Walters of the Society of Human Resources Management said at that meeting that 13 percent of organizations conduct credit checks on all job candidates, and another 47 percent consider a person's credit history for certain jobs.

HuffPost reported in October that Sammy Bailey, 42, was rejected from a job at Am-Rail in Kansas City, Mo. after failing a background credit check. The frustrating thing about it, he said, was that he had held his previous railroad job for 14 years, never missing a house or car payment until he was laid off in March 2009.

"When they run a credit report on you, I guess the score is supposed to determine what kind of employee you are," he said. "I've had very few jobs in my lifetime, and every job I've had I stuck with for a very long time. Seems like they should go off of you, not your credit score."

Reznik told HuffPost that when he introduced the same bill last year, it failed to pass because the business community and credit scoring agencies "clearly made some waves" to strike it down. This year, he said, the bill has a lot more momentum.

"Four states have now passed this bill, and the EEOC has started to move on this issue as well as a matter of discrimination," he said. "I think [the bill's opponents] see the writing on the wall, so we're working together to find some common ground, and that's progress from last year."