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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

By Mr. BIDEN (for himself and Mr. HATCH):

S. 1961. A bill to extend and expand the Child Safety Pilot Program; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Extending the Child Safety Pilot Program Act of 2005, along with my good friend Senator Hatch.

At the outset, let me thank Senator Hatch and his staff for joining with me in this effort. I can think of no stronger advocate for children's safety than my friend from Utah, and I am so pleased to have him as an original cosponsor of this bill.

When a mom drops her young son or daughter off at the local Boys & Girls Club, when a dad brings his child to little league practice, or when one of our kids is mentored by an older member of the community, we hope and pray that they are going to be safe. They usually are, and youth-serving organizations are constantly vetting new employees and volunteers to ensure there's nothing in their background to indicate that potential workers should not be around our kids.

But these groups can only do so much. They send information and fingerprints on prospective workers to their State criminal identification agencies, and that effort typically results in a comprehensive search of criminal history information on file in the State where the organization is established. But if the worker spent time in another state, or if a State's records are not up to date, kids' safety can be put in jeopardy.

The organization with the most complete set of national criminal history information is the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Years ago, I was approached by the Boys & Girls Clubs and others and asked whether there would be a way for them to directly access CJIS' records and avoid the then-cumbersome system requiring them to apply for these national background checks through their States.

I looked into the issue and discovered that a patchwork of statutes and regulations govern background checks at the State level. There are over 1,200 State statutes concerning criminal record checks. In different States, different agencies are authorized to perform background checks for different types of organizations, distinct forms and information are required, and the results are returned in various formats that can be difficult to interpret. Youth-serving organizations trying to do the right thing and keep the kids in their charge safe were being forced to navigate an extremely cumbersome system.

Indeed, in 1998, the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division performed an analysis of fingerprints submitted for civil applicant purposes. CJIS found that the average transmission time from the point of fingerprint to the State bureau was 51.0 days, and from the State bureau to the FBI was another 66.6 days, for a total of 117.6 days from fingerprinting to receipt by the FBI. The worst performing jurisdiction took 544.8 days from fingerprinting to receipt by the FBI. In a survey conducted by the National Mentoring Partnership, mentoring organizations waited an average of 6 weeks for the results of a national criminal background check to be returned. In a New York Times article published this past August, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America's vice president of club safety, Les Nichols, was quoted as saying that about a third of the criminal records that Clubs' checks turned up were from states other than the one where the applications were submitted. ``It can take as long as 18 months to retrieve those records,'' Mr. Nichols said, ``and that time lag works against us, particularly because we are in a business where we have a lot of seasonal staff and volunteers.''

Not only was the national criminal history background check process slow, but it was often too expensive to be useful to youth-serving organizations. In 2000, I introduced comprehensive legislation designed to plug these security holes. No action was taken on my National Child Protection Improvement Act that year. The following year, I re-introduced the bill as S. 1868. That bill cleared the Senate unanimously but was never acted on by the House. It would have set up an office in the Justice Department to coordinate background check requests from youth-serving organizations, and would have required the results of these checks to be forwarded from the FBI to the requesting groups quickly and affordably.

Finally, in 2003's PROTECT Act, we were able to make some progress on this critical issue. Along with Senator Hatch and Chairman Sensenbrenner of the House Judiciary Committee, I authored section 108 of the PROTECT Act conference report. Section 108 of Public Law 108-21 established an 18-month pilot program for certain organizations to obtain national criminal history background checks. When he signed the PROTECT Act into law, the President noted ``this law creates important pilot programs to help nonprofit organizations which deal with children to obtain quick and complete criminal background information on volunteers. Listen, mentoring programs are essential for our country, and we must make sure they are safe for the children they serve.''

The Child Safety Pilot Program created in the PROTECT Act was extended for another 12 months by a provision in last year's Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, but the initiative is scheduled to expire at the end of January 2006. Although the Department of Justice has yet to submit a status report on the Child Safety Pilot Program, as required by law, data provided by groups using the program demonstrate its effectiveness and the need for it to be extended.

At last check, over 10,000 background checks have been conducted through the pilot program. In those performed checks, 7.5 percent of all workers screened had an arrest or conviction in their record. Crimes discovered were serious: rape, child sexual abuse, murder, and domestic battery. Half of those individuals were not truthful in their job application and instead stated they did not have a criminal record. Over one-quarter, 28 percent, of applicants with a criminal record had crimes from States other than where they were applying to work. In other words, but for the existence of the Child Safety Pilot Program, employers may not have known that their applicants had a criminal record.

The bill Senator Hatch and I introduce today will extend the Child Safety Pilot Program for an additional 30-month period. It will also change the original program so that more youth-serving organizations can participate, and will shorten the timeframe given to the FBI in which to return the results of the background check. We are pleased that our bill has been endorsed by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the National Mentoring Partnership, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

I would like to thank those who have made this program such a success. Specifically, Ernie Allen and his team at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have generously provided staff and equipment and have served as a clearinghouse to process background check requests. Robbie Callaway and Steve Salem of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America originally came up with this idea, and have provided tireless advocacy on its behalf. And Margo Pedroso of the National Mentoring Partnership has been invaluable in making Members of Congress and the general public aware of the need for an affordable, efficient national criminal history background check system. Without her, this program would never have been created.

I urge my colleagues to support the Child Safety Pilot Program Act, and I look forward to its prompt consideration.

http://thomas.loc.gov/

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