In today’s job market, times are tough — especially if you’re an ex-con.

That is why New Haven community activist groups are trying to push a bill through the Connecticut State Assembly that would require the state, as well as certain organizations with which it has contracts, to offer jobs to potential employees before asking if they have criminal records. The move comes one year after New Haven’s Board of Aldermen passed similar “Ban the Box” legislation. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. joined local community activists at a press conference Tuesday to express the city’s support for the state bill, which State Reps. Tim O’Brien, of New Britain, Conn., and Ernest Hewett, of New London, Conn., brought before the assembly last month.

“New Haven understands that extending opportunities informs our quality of life,” DeStefano said. “Everyone is better when everyone works.”

The proposed state bill is also supported by the New Haven-based advocacy group Time Served, A Chance Deserved, which aims to make it easier for people who have been incarcerated to find employment.

The effort to pass the “Ban the Box” bill on the state level follows its success in New Haven last year. In February 2009 the board voted 22–1 to remove from city-related job applications the question requiring applicants to indicate whether they had criminal records. The legislation also removed the question from the job applications of vendors that have contracts with the city.

Kimberly Clark, a member of Mothers for Justice, a New Haven-based group of women dedicated to improving the lives of low-income families, also spoke Tuesday in favor of “Ban the Box.” In a tear-filled address, Clark, who has a 10-year-old felony conviction, said she feels a sense of shame when she must check the “yes” box next to the question: “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offense (felony or misdemeanor)?” on employment applications.

Typically, when a person indicates that he or she has a criminal record on an employment application, the potential employer runs a background check, according to the proposed state bill.

“Because of current business practices, people will never know what a hell of a good employee I will be,” Clark said.

Antone Deek, CEO of Armor All Protection LLC, a New Haven-based security firm, who has also been convicted of a criminal offense, said he is “living proof” that a past criminal record does not need to affect a person’s future. He said his company is proud not to ask about a potential employee’s criminal record on its employment forms.

“We’re not thinking in the box anymore,” Deek said. “We’re thinking out of the box — we’re thinking ‘Ban the Box.’”

Members of the Time Served, A Chance Deserved movement plan to visit Hartford Thursday to meet with state legislators and encourage them to pass the “Ban the Box” legislation.

The bill is currently docketed before the General Assembly, though it has not been altered by the assembly since March 12.