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03/18/2013

News / Illinois City Attorney reviews ordinance to fingerprint business license applicants

The City Attorney of Granite City, a municipality in southwestern Illinois, said he would review an ordinance that made it mandatory for business license applicants to have their fingerprints taken and checked by the police. City Attorney Brian Konzen wants to examine whether the ordinance, which was issued to improve the quality of criminal background checks and to protect city residents from being fleeced out by out-of-town contractors, violates First Amendment rights or restricts commercial activity. Konzen is set to release his report on the matter later this week.

“To what point can we lawfully and properly fingerprint business licenses?” Konzen said, as quoted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a newspaper serving the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area, “It's a good question, and I've got to look at it.”

The ordinance, which requires contractors applying for a city business license to submit their fingerprints to the Illinois State Police and to obtain a comprehensive criminal conviction background check, was passed by the Granite City Council last August. It came into force on January 1, but because of delays getting the fingerprinting machine up and running, the program was only able to kick off on February 15.

Since then, Building and Zoning Administrator Steve Willaredt has been arguing for the expansion of the program to cover all business license applicants.

“I feel that it's a protection to the community, to the general public,” Willaredt told the City Council on March 5. “I want to make sure that we don't have a murderer running a retail shop across the street from City Hall.”

Willaredt noted that the only exception to the rule should be landlords.

“I don't think I can deny somebody from letting somebody rent their house to somebody else,” he remarked.

Mayor Ed Hagnauer said he was reserving judgment until the Attorney’s report comes out, but supported the idea of mandatory fingerprinting for landlords and liquor license applicants. This is necessary, he argued, to prevent property owners with questionable backgrounds from renting their houses, and to make sure that people with criminal convictions do not sell drug paraphernalia.

However, the ordinance and its proposed expansion also have many critics.

Edward Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said he understood why people applying to sensitive positions, such as police officers, would have to undergo this process, but noted that requiring fingerprints from a person wanting to open a 7-11 shop was “invasive.”

Rosemarie Brown, the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce of Southwestern Madison County, was also critical of the ordinance, suggesting it could stifle local businesses and prevent new ones from starting up.

“If this requirement is extended to all businesses, we believe this would restrict legitimate companies from starting up or providing services to the City of Granite City,” she stated.

She also suggested that the city consider a requirement for a general payment and performance bond by contractors if it is concerned about nonperformance.

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