Schumer unveils new legislation that will allow child-serving organizations access to federal background checks of new employees and volunteers.
July 24, 2013 - Washington, DC - Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer unveiled new legislation to close a gaping hole in the federal law that prevents summer camps, 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. Under current law, most children’s organizations only have access to the New York State database, and lack access to FBI databases, which are widely considered the most accurate and complete criminal databases. 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. 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 of 2013, 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.
“As a parent, I know there is nothing more important than keeping our children safe from harm – and at the moment, there is flaw in federal law that is making it harder for employers to fully screen applicants for child-serving jobs,” said Schumer. “There should be absolutely no difficulty for these organizations to access the federal background check data that will keep children safe from dangerous predators - particularly when studies have shown that about six percent of individuals serving in these positions have committed serious crimes. That’s why I’m putting on the full court press to pass my new legislation, which will make relevant criminal records of state and federal crimes in all fifty states accessible to educational and volunteer children’s programs. Parents deserve the peace of mind knowing that their children are in good hands when they drop them off at camp or afterschool programs.”
According to Schumer, the current system of obtaining a background check for child-serving groups is not nearly as accessible as it should be. Just about one-third of states allow a range of youth-serving organizations to access FBI searches, and New York is not one of them. And, even when those searches are available, they can be cost-prohibitive and time-consuming and discourage many groups from obtaining the background checks. Under current law, an organization must apply for a background check through its state. Only a handful of states allow access to FBI checks through this process.
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 can register with the state to get access to state fingerprint checks. Notably, though, this will only involve an individual’s New York records. 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.The Child Protection Improvements and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act of 2013 would create a nationally-accessible background check solution for youth-serving organizations, and ensure access to federal FBI fingerprint background checks.
Specifically,The Child Protection Improvements and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act of 2013would 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. That entity would then provide these functions:
o Approve child-serving programs for participation and handle questions and inquiries.
o Receive paper and electronic submissions of fingerprints.
o Transmit fingerprint submissions to the FBI and states.
o Return results of the check (not records) back to the requesting organization.
o Ensure requests are being completed within days of receipt.
o Handle the collection of fees and reimbursement of the FBI.
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 of whether to go ahead with the hiring.
·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. 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.
On the call, Schumer provided an example of how this process would work: If a summer camp in the Finger Lakes Region wants to hire a paid or volunteer counselor, they could call DOJ’s new 1-800 number and find out where to get the background check done locally. Mostly likely this would be at the local police station where systems are already in place to make it a smooth process. The organization would pay a processing fee at the Police station and they would send the counselor’s fingerprints to DOJ. Then the Dept. of Justice would run the fingerprints through the FBI’s records which cover both state and federal crimes in every state, not just in New York. The school would then hear the results from DOJ – not a full personal record, but whether the coach had a serious conviction or open arrest or a cause not to be hired.
A look at crime statistics in the New York, specifically the crimes committed by registered sex offenders over the past year, reveals the need for these types of criminal background checks. On the call, Schumer provided county by county data of the number of registered sex offenders in NYS as of July 2013 according to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Service, and the approximate number of related crimes committed between August 2012 and July 2013.
·In the Capital Region,there are2,382 registered sex offenders and there were approximately 103 related crimes last year
·In Western New York,there are2,303 registered sex offenders and there were approximately 96 related crimes last year
·In the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region,there are2,483 registered sex offenders and there were approximately 98 related crimes last year
·In the Southern Tier,there are2,009 registered sex offenders and there were approximately 78 related crimes last year
·In Central New York,there are2,818 registered sex offenders and there were approximately 197 related crimes last year
·In the Hudson Valley,there are1,858 registered sex offenders and there were approximately 104 related crimes last year
·In the North Country,there are1,640 registered sex offenders and there were approximately 70 related crimes last year
Human service organizations rely heavily on volunteers and employees to provide services and care to children. These individuals coach soccer games, mentor young people, 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. Schumer pointed to the case of a Southern Tier man named Daryl Vonneida, and his over 40 years of sexually abusing children as a baseball and soccer coach, and most recently as a church volunteer. A quick, thorough national background check might have turned up Vonneida’s past convictions and prevented his hire at any youth-serving organization or not-for-profit. Many of the hold ups with Vonneida’s case come from old record keeping and difficulty accessing information, but a federal background check would have found his 1989 first degree sexual abuse conviction. Schumer argued that even though it can’t be known whether this bill would have stopped Vonneida, it can stop the next predator before that person can work with kids.
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 would 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% 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% 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% 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 would make running a fingerprint background check easier for youth-serving organizations.
Schumer’s legislation has been endorsed by: Afterschool Alliance, American Camp Association, America’s Promise Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Camp Fire USA, Communities In Schools, Inc., First Focus, GLSEN - the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership, National Collaboration for Youth, and YMCA of the USA.