Several years ago I handled indigent criminal appeals. One of my most memorable cases involved defending a black teenager who got busted for drugs. This case was unusual because the crime only involved an illegal substance, not the types of crimes I usually handled--burglary, robbery, or worse. Another unique aspect of this matter was that my 16-year-old client\u2019s mother, who had been recently widowed, attended every court hearing--of which there were many. Luckily for the three of us, there was a new judge on the case. Also, the judge had just visited some of the state\u2019s grim juvenile detention centers. He asked my strapping young client about his experience in teenage jail. \u201cIt\u2019s no big deal,\u201d the young man muttered. His mother blurted out, \u201cNow you tell the judge what you told me!\u201d The teenager reluctantly told the judge how rough it was inside the detention center. After listening to the young man, the judge agreed to give him another chance. My client was put on probation instead of having to finish his sentence out in the detention center. I thought of that young man while reading a plea from the Greenlining Institute urging state regulators last week to prohibit punitive background checks for contractors handling energy efficiency jobs for investor-owned utilities. I wondered if my former client\u2019s bust has kept him from getting a decent job, and free from the cycle of poverty and violence. I don\u2019t know the answer but agree with Greenlining that he and others like him would be shut out of energy efficiency work if utilities require that job applicants be immediately disqualified for a subset of non-violent convictions not related to the work at hand. That matter is urgent. That\u2019s because beginning next year utilities are to begin upfront background checks for energy efficiency contractors and workers. The criteria for passing the checks were developed behind closed doors and cover a large number of crimes, some victimless. They only thing that could alter the checks is if the California Public Utilities Commission takes up the matter before its final meeting of this year. Past drug and driving under the influence convictions instantly shut out many otherwise worthy job candidates. That conflicts with a key goal of the CPUC\u2019s \u201cbig bold\u201d energy efficiency programs financed with billions of ratepayer dollars: workforce training and expansion, particularly in neglected and underserved areas. According to the National Law Employment Center, about one in four adults in the U.S. have rap sheets--or about 65 million people. No one benefits from a large section of our population being jobless. Shutting these men and women out of the workforce keeps them on the margins of society, harming them and our communities. The proposed mandate for upfront criminal background checks for energy efficiency work also is racist. That\u2019s because Blacks and Latinos are more frequently targeted by the police for drug and DUI arrests. Both men and some women in these groups are far more likely to be arrested than their counterparts in the white population. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission \u201cfound that Latinos and African Americans were more likely than Whites to be arrested, convicted, or sentenced for drug offenses even though their rate of drug use is similar to the rate of drug use for Whites,\u201d notes Greenlining in its Nov. 20 filing (emphasis included). I don\u2019t doubt the good intentions of utilities, known for their diverse workforces, in pursuing the background checks. They want contractors they hire to have reliable workers and to avoid liability. But like Greenlining, I take issue with the lack of transparency on their employment qualification proposals for energy efficiency contractors--and the apparent lack of input from organizations with employment expertise. Prior drug and DUI convictions shouldn\u2019t keep men and women from getting paid for legitimate work, be it weatherizing leaky homes, or performing other efficiency retrofit work. That doesn\u2019t mean I take driving under the influence lightly. I don\u2019t and probably more so than many because my father instituted California\u2019s first anti-drunk driving law when he was head of the Department of Motor Vehicles in the early 1960s. (It also led to a big fight with his boss, then-Gov. Pat Brown, because several bigwigs had gotten pulled over. Surely those stops didn\u2019t interfere with their job prospects.) State regulators should not be overly influenced by Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric liability concerns. The CPUC, like my client\u2019s judge, should give contractor workers a chance to speak out, avoiding discriminatory exclusions of struggling populations from getting jobs within their reach. Thoughtful shaping of hiring criteria to keep the door open for needy job applicants, while protecting utilities and their ratepayers, surely will take fewer resources than those used to measure energy savings from compact fluorescent lights or determine when utility shareholders--many of whom have driven under the influence or used drugs--should get bonuses. State regulators need to act to keep the energy efficiency training and job prospects from going bust.