New legislation allows organizations federal access to background checks

Senator Charles E. Schumer is unveiling new legislation to close a gaping hole in a federal law concerning employment around children. Schumer announced legislation to work with the federal law and close a gap preventing summer camps, children’s groups and other not-for-profit organizations 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 cannot access the FBI databases, which are widely considered the most accurate and complete criminal databases. New York state’s criminal database lacks records of out-of-state criminal activity if the offense is not federal.

Schumer said, for example, an applicant could be convicted of assault in Ohio or committed a sex crime in Florida, but there may be no record of it in the New York state database. Schumer’s bipartisan legislation, The Children Protection Improvements and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act of 2013, would grant youth-serving organizations access to the 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 a flaw in federal law that is making it harder for employers to fully screen applicants for child-serving jobs,” Schumer said. “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.”

Just about one-third of states allow a range of youth-serving organizations to access FBI searches, with New York not being one. Even when those searches are available, they can be cost-prohibitive, time consuming and discourage many groups from obtaining the background checks. Currently, there are 366 registered sex offenders in Chautauqua County and 239 registered sex offenders in Cattaraugus County. There was an estimated five crimes in the past year in Chautauqua County and 22 crimes in Cattaraugus County. These estimated crimes were determined by measuring the difference in registered sex offenders between August 2012 and July 2013.

With the new legislation, access to nationwide background searches would have easier access 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. When federal background checks are run, an employer will be notified if an applicant has a conviction or open arrest for any offenses for crimes of violence, crimes against children and sex offenses, among others. The employer can then make the determination of whether to proceed with hiring.

The Department of Justice would be a resource where an employer would call to find a local place to have a background check done locally, which is normally at the local police station. The organization would have to pay a processing fee and send the potential employee’s fingerprints to the Department of Justice. The results would come back not as a full personal record, but whether the candidate for hire had a serious conviction, open arrest or a cause not to be hired.

Statistics from the now-expired PROTECT Act Child Safety Pilot show the importance of a nationwide fingerprint-based FBI criminal background check. As of September 2010, over 6 percent of volunteers of 77,000 background checks performed through the pilot in seven years were found to have a criminal record of concern, including serious offenses like sexual abuse of minors, assaults and murder. In over 40 percent of those who had criminal records, the crime was committed in a state other than where they were applying to volunteer or for employment. Schumer urged the importance of fingerprint background checks since name-based background checks can have more false positives. Nearly 23 percent of the individuals screened during the pilot program had a different name or date of birth on their application than what appeared on the criminal record.

Human service organizations rely heavily on volunteers and employees to provide services and care to children. It’s estimated over 15 million adults nationwide volunteer for education or youth program groups. Schumer pointed to the case of a Southern Tier man, Daryl Vonneida, and his over 40 years of sexually abusing children as a baseball and soccer coach and most recent 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. 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.

Comments on this article may be sent to