Champaign considers whether to keep ban on ex-felons as drivers for hire
CHAMPAIGN — At least one Champaign City Council member shares concerns with his counterparts in Urbana about a prohibition on recently convicted felons driving taxi cabs in either city.
As the vehicle-for-hire business booms in both cities, the ordinance they share that regulates taxis, limousines and shuttles needed a rewrite. Both city councils approved those rewrites this week, but some elected officials called attention to a long-standing provision that did not change.
Urbana officials say it might be time remove a line that says felons have to wait four years after being released from prison before they can get a taxi license, and on Tuesday night, Champaign City Council member Will Kyles agreed.
Another council member, Tom Bruno, said he wasn't so sure, but the city attorney says Champaign will cooperate with Urbana officials in their review of the prohibition on drivers with recent felonies.
"You've got a community out there of people who are locked out of opportunities," Kyles said.
He said it is one of the most common complaints he hears as he goes door-to-door in his District 1, and he hopes officials will start with rolling back this exclusion.
"One of the top concerns is helping those who have felony backgrounds," Kyles said. "Some of these people have had felonies for 17 years, and they're frustrated."
Urbana City Council members have asked for city administrators to bring them a report within the next six months on why that rule exists. To make administration and enforcement of the taxi licensing program easier, the ordinance is identical in both cities.
That means both city councils would have to approve of any change if they want to continue sharing the ordinance and its administration.
Champaign City Attorney Fred Stavins said staff members will work with Urbana staff to develop a report, as it does raise some questions "in respect to the spirit of our human rights ordinance."
Kyles said it is a tough issue, but continuing to exclude felons from jobs will only perpetuate social issues.
"Until we find some type of balance, a lot of the issues that we have and we see today as it pertains to crime, as it pertains to just a myriad of a lot of issues will continue to exist," Kyles said.
Bruno, a criminal defense attorney, said he was not so sure about removing the provision. He said he is bothered by a lot of society's exclusion of ex-felons, but the driver's seat of a taxi cab might be the right place for a prohibition.
He said the city owes it to taxi cab customers to promise that their drivers have met a "higher level of scrutiny."
"They have completely trusted you to get in your car," Bruno said. "That's a little bit of a different situation than to see that a convicted felon gets a job at the public works department."
In fact, he wants to consider expanding the prohibition to include registered sex offenders.
"I come down on the side of, while I want to see them rehabilitated and have job opportunities in the world, there are many job opportunities that don't involve the level of intimate trust" that is commanded by a cab driver, Bruno said.