Employment opportunities for Illinois residents with criminal backgrounds seeking jobs with state agencies may have gotten a little better.

Gov. Pat Quinn earlier this month signed an administrative order instructing all state agencies to remove the question asking whether a person have been convicted of a crime from state’s employment applications.

The administrative order stems from legislative sponsored by Austin state Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) in 2007. The so-called “banned the box” bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly, but then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich refused to sign it into law.

But Ford recently applauded Quinn for signing the order, which only affects state agencies and not private businesses. Ford hopes the order will level the playing field for people excluded from the workforce because of the “box question.”

The box, Ford contends, automatically disenfranchises a qualified prospect from getting the opportunity to apply for a job because of past mistakes.

“I know people who are very qualified to do work, have degrees and experience, but had a run in with the law, and now all of that experience and qualification seems to be out the door [because] they don’t get a chance to prove it to anyone,” Ford said.

The governor’s order, he added, removes that barrier and allows the state “to hire the most qualified person.”

State agencies still will do background checks. But having that occur at the end of the process allows employers to hire individuals based on the interview, qualifications, resume and character references, and not whether if a box is checked or not.

“They will look at everything about the person and then they’ll say, ‘we want to hire you,'” Ford said. “What the barrier has been is that people never got their foot in the door to show the employer that they’re qualified…but because when they check that box the application is always thrown away.”

While the administrative order affect state agencies only, Ford hopes to make the measure the law of the land. He noted this measure can be rescinded if a new governor takes office.

“I don’t see why anyone would rescind this, but what we will do is modify the language at a later date,” Ford said. “The goal would be that the state leads the way in showing businesses in the state of Illinois that this would be no harm to their businesses.”