Bill would expand youth worker background checks

SARANAC LAKE – U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer on Wednesday announced a bill that would grant youth-serving organizations access to federal background checks for volunteers and employment applicants.

“Right now, New York state organizations only have access to the New York database,” Schumer said on a conference call. “They lack access to FBI databases, which are widely considered the most accurate and complete criminal databases.”

If the new Child Protection Improvements and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act of 2013 passed, a clearinghouse within the Department of Justice would facilitate access to nationwide background checks for youth-serving organizations. Those organizations would call an 800 number to find out where the background check is done locally, most likely a police station. The police station would send the applicant’s photo or fingerprints to the Department of Justice, which would run the information through the data base.

An applicant’s personal records wouldn’t be released through this system – the organization would only be notified if the check revealed a conviction related to violent behavior or sexual assault. Employers could then determine if they want to go forward with the hire.

“The standard in the bill is clear,” Schumer said. “If someone shows up as having a conviction for an offense under federal law, they’re going to get a red flag. The bill helps keep children out of the wrong hands, and on top of that, it’s entirely paid for from fees by the groups seeking the background checks. It requires no new authorizations or appropriations.”

Schumer added that the fee for performing a background check would likely be small because the databases are already in place; the law would just allow access to them.

The Child Protection Act is not a new idea. The Child Safety Pilot Program, which worked with state governments to give youth-serving programs access to FBI fingerprint background checks, was passed in 2003 under the now-expired PROTECT Act.

Statistics from that act, according to Schumer, show that in the seven years it was active, 77,000 background checks were performed through it. More than 6 percent of youth-serving volunteers were found to have a criminal record of concern, and 40 percent of those with criminal records committed their crimes in a state other than the one they were seeking employment or volunteering in.

Out-of-state offenders aside, there are 114 registered sex offenders in Essex County, 174 in Franklin County and 12 in Hamilton County.

Schumer said that, despite the current political climate in Washington, the bill should pass.

“I think it should pass relatively easily,” Schumer said. “This kind of legislation does not get caught up in the partisan mess that’s in Washington and gets bipartisan support.”

Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or