Nebraska bill incentivizes businesses to hire convicted felons

Big Mama's has been hiring convicts for years
Big Mama's has been hiring convicts for years(WOWT 6 NEWS)
Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 9:59 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 18, 2022 at 9:20 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A bill introduced to Nebraska’s Unicameral would incentivize employers to hire people with felony convictions with an income tax credit.

The bill was introduced Thursday by Senator Justin Wayne, who represents North Omaha. It was the third time it’s been introduced.

Across the state, there are already employers who purposefully hire convicts, including Big Mama’s Kitchen and Catering.

“Ever since we opened our doors, it was always a part of my mom’s vision that her restaurant would be a place to give people second chances and first chances,” says Gladys Harrison, the owner of the restaurant. “We’ve hired felons from the get-go, some of them were our own family members and that’s why that was important to her.”

Harrison took over the business after her mother, Big Mama, passed in 2018.

“We did have people in our family who had gotten into trouble over the years and were able to get jobs, get on their feet and become productive citizens and she wanted her restaurant to be a place where people could get a second chance or a first chance.”

Businesses like hers could soon benefit from hiring those with a record, thanks to Wayne’s bill, LB917.

The bill offers an income tax credit to employers who hire those with felony convictions. The reduction is applicable for the first year of the person’s employment, or until they make $20,000.

“There are so many people who are coming out of incarceration who just need that opportunity, that chance, so something like this tax credit will get employees to say ‘well, okay, I’ll take this chance,’ and it gives the people coming out of incarceration that opportunity to say ‘I can prove to you that I’m a good worker,” says Jasmine Harris, who works with RISE Academy.

RISE is a non-profit organization that focuses on re-entry for those formerly incarcerated.

“We run a program in seven of the 10 correctional facilities here in the state, and it’s focused on employment readiness, character development and entrepreneurship,” she says. “We start working with individuals about a year before their release, working on things like housing, employment, transportation and really getting them prepared as they are going to see the parole board or mandatorily releasing, so that way they have a plan in place for that re-entry.”

Harris says she supported this bill last time it was introduced, several years ago. She applauds Wayne’s drive to pass it.

“I’m always glad when he is bringing back bills that didn’t pass on the first go-around when they would increase the quality of life for people especially in the economic realm.”

Although the bill would offer an incentive, Harris says it digs into who people are as employers.

“We say ‘go pay your debt to society’ and people come out of incarceration, and they don’t have the pathways forward to be now what you would consider a contributing citizen to the community, right so they need these jobs, they need housing, they need opportunities,” she says. “So I would say yes, its an incentive, but lets do the right thing and lets hire people.”

Harris and Harrison both say this bill could help change lives for those who are re-entering society and working towards being a productive community member.

“This gives them that chance to actually get a job that means something, that has a livable wage that they can actually pay their bills with, so I think this is on the right track,” Harris says.

“It’s good to know that this is up for debate, and that our senators understand that we’ve got to provide business some incentive to hire people that have a record, maybe that will open up more opportunities and possibilities for people who have a record,” Harrison says. “When people get out, they need to be given an opportunity to get their lives back together, and you have to have a job you know you gotta work and its gotta be a job you know where you can make a decent wage to take care of yourself.”

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