SENATE PASSES BIPARTISAN SCHUMER-ORIGINATED BILL THAT WILL ALLOW CAMPS & CHILDREN ORGS TO GAIN ACCESS TO FBI SEX OFFENDER BACKGROUND CHECKS ON NEW EMPLOYEES AND VOLUNTEERS, ADDING AN ADDITIONAL LAYER OF PROTECTION AND SAFETY FOR CHILDREN NATION WIDE; BILL ONE STEP CLOSER TO BECOMING LAW
Legislation First Introduced By Schumer Will Unlock Data Base For Summer Camps & Other Organizations To Access Fed Background Check On New Employees and Volunteers
Schumer Says Day Camps Want The Ability To Conduct Sex Offender Background Checks On Prospective Employees To Protect Children, But Until Now Could Not Access National FBI Sex Offender Database
Schumer: Access To The FBI Database Will Help Keep Our Children Safe
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer today announced, following his push, the passage of bipartisan legislation that would, for the first time, close a gaping hole in current federal law that prevents summer camps and other children’s organizations from gaining access to federal sex offender background checks on new employees and volunteers. Schumer, who was the original author of the bill, has championed its passage since 2009. Schumer said the bill would address a gap in current federal law, in which many summer camps, daycare centers, charity organizations and many more only have access to New York State’s criminal database. Schumer said the passage of this bill is the first step in helping day camps and other organizations gain vital access to the FBI sex offender database, which is widely considered the most accurate and complete criminal database. Oftentimes criminal activity is committed outside the state and pertinent information could be missing from a state’s database, so this bill would greatly increase vetting for organizations and summer camps. The legislation now awaits final action by the House of Representatives.
“There is a serious gap in federal law that makes it hard for afterschool programs, summer camps, day cares and other child-serving organizations to fully screen their paid and volunteer applicants. These groups are tasked with ensuring the safety of children day in and day out and should never have any difficulty when it comes to accessing the FBI background checks they need to ensure dangerous predators are not allowed anywhere near our kids,” said Senator Schumer. “I urged my colleagues to pass this commonsense, bi-partisan legislation because, as a parent, I know there is nothing more important than keeping our children safe from harm. Parents deserve the peace of mind knowing that their children are in good hands when they drop them off at camp and other afterschool programs. The passage of this bill provides just that. I look forward to swift action by the House to get this bill across the finish line.”
Schumer explained many organizations and programs rely heavily on volunteers and employees to provide services and care to children. These individuals coach soccer games, mentor young people and run youth camps and are involved with children in many other ways. It’s estimated that over 15 million adults nationwide volunteer for education or youth program groups. Up until now these organizations did not have access to the FBI database, but the passage of this bill through the Senate can help organizations that are tasked with taking care of our children access the most updated and comprehensive sex offender records. Previously, according to Schumer, the current system of obtaining a background check for child-serving groups was not nearly as accessible as it should have been, particularly when it comes to out-of-state records. Only some states allow a range of youth-serving organizations to access FBI searches, but New York is not one of them. Even when those searches are available, they can be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming for summer camps and organizations on a budget. Schumer said this discouraged many groups from obtaining necessary background checks. Under the previous law, an organization had to apply for a background check through its state, and for each employee. Only a handful of states allow access to FBI checks through this process, but this bill’s passage is the first step to increasing access to volunteer and employee records.
Currently, in New York State, there are two ways to get access to background checks: An individual can get access to his own criminal history records by requesting them from the state and paying a fee. In addition, a mentoring organization, like summer camp, can register with the state to get access to state fingerprint checks. Notably, though, this will only involve an individual’s New York records. According to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Service, there were 17,117 registered sex offenders in Upstate New York as of June 2017. As of 2010, however, over 40 percent 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 New York’s database.
The Child Protection Improvements Act of 2017 will create a nationally accessible background check solution for youth-serving organizations, and ensure access to federal FBI fingerprint background checks. Specifically, this legislation will do the following:
- Facilitate widespread access to nationwide background searches by requiring the Attorney General to designate a team to process state and federal background checks on prospective employees and volunteers for youth-serving organizations and for employees in the electronic life safety and security systems industry.
- Provide participating organizations with reliable and accurate information as to whether an individual’s criminal record bears upon his fitness to work or volunteer with children. After a check is run, an employer will be notified if an applicant has a conviction or open arrest for any offenses like crimes of violence, crimes against children, and sex offenses, among others. The employer can then make the determination whether to go ahead with the hiring.
Schumer said that with the passage of this bill, individuals will be provided with 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. 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.
So, if a summer camp in Central New York wants to hire a paid or volunteer counselor, they could simply contact the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) and find out where to get the background check done locally. Most likely this would be at the local police station where systems are already in place to make it a smooth process. The organization will be paying a processing fee at the police station and they would send the counselor’s fingerprints to DOJ. The DOJ would then run the fingerprints through the FBI’s records, which cover both state and federal crimes in every state, not just in New York. The camp would then hear the results from DOJ – not a full personal record, but whether the paid or volunteer counselor had a serious conviction or open arrest for a serious offense.
Statistics from the now-expired PROTECT Act Child Safety Pilot, which was passed in 2003 as a part of the PROTECT Act, demonstrate the importance of a nationwide fingerprint-based FBI criminal background check. The Pilot program helped many of the same organizations that will be served by Schumer’s bill; by working with the state governments to give access to FBI fingerprint background checks to youth-serving organizations. As of September 2010, of 77,000 background checks performed through the pilot in seven years, over 6 percent of volunteers were found to have a criminal record of concern – including very serious offenses like sexual abuse of minors, assaults, murder and serious drug offenses. In addition, over 40 percent 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 also noted that fingerprint background checks have become increasingly important since name-based background checks have a higher incidence of “false positives” or inaccurate information. In fact, nearly 23 percent of the individuals screened by the pilot provided a different name or date of birth on their application than what appeared on the criminal record. A name-based search would likely not have caught these criminal records. Schumer’s legislation will make running a fingerprint background check easier for youth-serving organizations.
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