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Senator wants federal background check access for child-serving organizations, including camps, daycare

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D, NY) announced legislation that would close a loophole in the federal law that prevents summer camps, little leagues, Boy Scout troops, children’s groups and other not-for-profit organizations that work with children from gaining access to federal criminal background checks on new employees and volunteers.  Earlier this month, seventy-one individuals were charged in child pornography ring and a number of those charged held jobs that commonly work with children. For example, one individual was both a Boy Scout leader and Little League coach, another individual was a rabbi who taught at a Jewish girls seminary, and another individual taught religious classes at a Catholic church. 

Under current law, most children’s organizations only have access to the New York State database, and lack access to FBI databases, which is the most accurate, complete and up-to-date criminal database. Also, New York State’s criminal database – which is the only resource most local groups have access to – lack records of criminal activity committed out of state, when the offense is not federal. As of 2010, over 40% of the individuals with criminal records had committed an offense in a state other than where they were applying to volunteer, meaning that a state-only search would not have found relevant criminal records.  Schumer noted that an applicant to be a camp counselor, for example, could have been convicted of an assault in Ohio, or committed a sex crime in Florida but there may be no record of it in the NYS database. Schumer’s bi-partisan legislation, The Child Protection Improvements and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act, would grant youth-serving organizations access to FBI background checks for volunteers and new employees, so they would be able to check for any violent or sex crime committed anywhere in the country, regardless of where it is committed and whether it is a state or federal crime.

“The recent child porn bust involving the arrest of a Boy Scout leader, little league coach and religious education teacher highlight the disturbing fact that some individuals who we trust to work with our children may be sexual predators,” said Schumer. “As a parent, I know there is nothing more important than keeping our children safe from harm—and at the moment, there is a flaw in federal law that is making it harder for employers at child-serving organizations to fully screen applicants for jobs and volunteer positions.”

The Child Protection Improvements and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act would create a nationally-accessible background check solution for youth-serving organizations, and ensure access to federal FBI fingerprint background checks. Specifically the legislation would do the following:

  • Provide child serving organizations with reliable and accurate information regarding the fitness of volunteers/employees to have responsibility for the safety and well-being of the children in their care;
  • Facilitate widespread access to State and national criminal history background checks, not otherwise authorized by Federal or State law, on covered individuals and on employers and employees in the electronic life safety and security systems industry.

This legislation will require the Attorney General to designate an entity to process state and federal background checks and make fitness determinations for individuals covered by the two categories listed above. This bill is entirely paid for by fees from the entities seeking background checks, and requires no new authorizations or appropriations.  In addition, this bill does not impose any new or unfunded mandates on the states. The bill also protects due process by requiring users of this information to follow guidance on using background check information published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Finally, individuals are provided an opportunity to challenge the accuracy and completeness of their records with the FBI and are ensured that the privacy of their records will be protected.