It can be a vicious circle for many in New Jersey; they can't pay their bills because they can't get a job, but they can't get a job because they can't pay their bills.

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A bill to bar employers from requiring credit checks as a condition of employment was approved yesterday by the Assembly Labor Committee.

The measure, which is co-sponsored by Assembly Democrats Ruben Ramos and Shavonda Sumter among others, would prohibit an employer from requiring a credit check on a current or prospective employee, unless the employer is required to do so by law, or reasonably believes that an employee has engaged in a specific activity that is financial in nature and constitutes a violation of law.

"In most cases, I see no legitimate reason for making a credit check a condition of employment," said Ramos (D-Hoboken). "Let's be fair here and require credit checks only when an employee will be working in a job that's financial in nature. In other cases, it just simply isn't necessary and is quite simply unfair."

The bill does not prevent an employer from performing a credit inquiry or taking an employment action if credit history is a bonafide occupational qualification.

The legislation prohibits an employer from requiring a prospective employee to waive or limit any protection granted under the bill as a condition of applying for or receiving an offer of employment.

"Unless they're going to work in a financial institution, a credit score does not determine you['re ability to get the job done," explained Sumter (D-Paterson). "Hard-working residents who may have fallen on tough times should not be penalized. We should be opening doors to opportunity, not closing them."

The bill provides for the imposition of civil penalties in an amount not to exceed $2,000 for the first violation, and $5,000 for each subsequent violation, collectible by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development.

Opponents say employers have every right to know if a job applicant has a criminal history especially if they've been convicted of a violent crime.