New business ordinance in Sumter raises concern for formerly incarcerated individuals
SUMTER, S.C. (WIS) - Sumter City Leaders hope a newly passed law will protect businesses, but some say this will unfairly exclude potential business owners from opening up shop in the city.
The new law, passed by council in September, gives the city broader reach to deny business license applications for those convicted of crimes.
“It gives our business license department a checkpoint to be able to check on who’s applying for a license,” Sumter Mayor David Merchant said.
The law specifically singles out business owners convicted of crimes involving dishonesty or any crime punishable by over one year in prison. These stipulations would apply to these convicted in the last 10 years.
“They can do a background check with the Police Chief to see if they’ve had dishonest business practices in the past; and (if) they’re taking advantage of someone,” Mayor Merchant said.
Derek Gamble has helped formerly incarcerated individuals turn their lives around through the Clean Slate Reentry Program. He argues this ordinance would’ve been a slap in his face if it got approved when he was trying to turn his life around.
“The ordinance would make where it would be a ten year wait for a person to be able to get a business license,” Gamble said, adding, “Many times, doors for employment close in your face and if this is another avenue to make things harder, this is another door closed in your face as well.”
Paul Bowers with ALCU says this ordinance is going to create more problems than it solves. He feels the ordinance lacks clarity and might prevent people who want a fresh start from getting one.
“They should write it better worded... it’s overly vague, and we know selective enforcement can lead to real problems of discrimination,” Bowers said, adding, “This is creating a situation that is unfair; that is punishing people retroactively, and that sort of thing doesn’t generally hold up in court.”
With roughly 4,000 active businesses calling Sumter home, anyone who is rejected from starting a business is welcome to appeal.
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