BY JOE OLENICK firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — Noting a hole in federal law that’s supposed to protect youth organizations from sex offenders, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said Wednesday he is introducing legislation that would give those groups access to FBI background checks.
The senator’s bill, the Child Protection Improvement and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act, would give community youth groups and agencies access to a national FBI database of sex offenders. Schumer said most youth groups have access only to state background checks and that registered sex offenders are increasingly moving to other states to avoid the system.
It isn’t a problem yet, but Schumer said children’s safety should be paramount regardless.
“We all agonize over it,” Schumer said Wednesday in a conference call. “One (child harmed) is one too many. We want to eliminate the possibility.”
Over 15 million adults volunteer each year to help with youth programs. Volunteers, along with regular employees, can make up a large number of adults working at a particular program, increasing the chance an offender would slip through the current background check, Schumer said. He said some of the offenders seek employment or volunteer through summer camps and other youth-service organizations.
Schumer said 15,493 sex offenders live in the state and 746 related crimes were reported last year. In Western New York there are 2,303 registered sex offenders, 441 of which live in Niagara County and a reported 96 related crimes took place in the region last year. Twelve of those crimes were reported in Niagara County.
Access to the federal criminal database would expand the background check to include criminal activity out of state.
“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 6 percent of individuals serving in these positions have committed serious crimes,” Schumer said. “Parents deserve the peace of mind knowing that their children are in good hands when they drop them off at camp or afterschool programs.”
Only about one-third of states allow a range of youth-serving organizations to access FBI searches, Schumer said. 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 Schumer’s bill, youth organizations could check an applicant’s background for violent or sex crimes, regardless of where a crime was committed. He said the system would still protect personal privacy. Employers would be notified only if a conviction shows up in the FBI database.
Schumer said expanding access to the federal database will not cost taxpayers extra money.Groups seeking the background checks would pay a small fee to the federal government to cover any costs.
Schumer’s legislation has been endorsed by a number of groups including the Afterschool Alliance, American Camp Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the YMCA.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.