Hermiston Council Overturns Taxi Driver's Ban

HCC 7-27-15
The Hermiston City Council approved an amendment to its taxi licensing program that limits the length of time certain crimes can be considered when conducting a background check on a taxi driver applicant.

[quote style=”2″]Council Also Passes Amendment to Address Past Convictions[/quote]

The Hermiston City Council amended its taxi licensing program Monday night by limiting the length of time that certain criminal convictions can be considered when deciding whether or not to approve an individual’s application to become a taxi driver.

The changes approved by the council include limiting the time that lower-level convictions may be taken into account during background checks to 10 years.

The amendment also states that more serious felony crimes such as murder, rape, assault, robbery, stalking and others can be taken into account regardless of how old the conviction is.

Finally, the amendment states that any crime that has been expunged or removed from a person’s record cannot be taken into account during a background check.

The ordinance was initially declared an emergency, meaning the amendment would take effect immediately after passage. The council, however, voted 7-1 to pass the amendment with Councilor Doug Primmer voting no. Because ordinances that are declared emergencies must be approved unanimously in order to pass, the ordinance failed.

The council then took the step to remove the emergency declaration, which means that ordinance passed, but won’t go into effect until 30 days after its final vote and passage at the next council meeting.

Primmer voted against the ordinance because he stated he believed crimes such as first- and second-degree theft as well as identity theft should be taken into account regardless of how long ago they were committed.

“Because of the trust we are placing in these people, we need to include those as disqualifiers,” Primmer said.

Councilor John Kirwan said someone who makes a mistake at the age of 18 shouldn’t be denied an opportunity to work later in life.

Also Monday night, the council heard an appeal from Nancy Gomez, a driver for Hermiston Transit. Gomez was convicted of several lower-level misdemeanor crimes 32 years ago. The city’s taxi licensing program, initially approved by the council in May, originally created a lifetime ban for many convictions, but put in place an appeal process. Because Monday night’s amendment limiting the length of time certain convictions can be considered won’t go into effect for another 45 days, the council voted to overturn Gomez’ ban. Prior to overturning her ban, an emotional Gomez asked to council to take into consideration her record for the past 32 years.

“This has dogged me for the past 32 years,” said the 58-year-old Gomez. “I’ve paid my debts to society. To say that after 32 years that I can’t drive a taxi is arbitrary. We’ve all made mistakes. What gives you the right to judge me? The law and the courts have already judged me.”

After the vote to overturn her ban, Gomez thanked the council.

Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann noted Gomez’ courage for standing up before the council and owning up to her past mistakes.

“It’s not easy to get up in public and talk about the mistakes of the past,” he said. “I’m proud of you and your effort to turn your life around.”

The council, however, chose not to overturn a ban for former Hermiston Transit driver Jill Litzsinger, who was convicted three times in 2008 for delivery of a controlled substance. Litzsinger was not at Monday’s meeting.