Protect Act of 2003 Technical Amendment

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: July 22, 2003
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I rise to commend the other body for its prompt action on S. 1280, legislation introduced by Chairman HATCH and myself and passed unanimously by the Senate on July 14. Enactment of S. 1280 will clear the way for the commencement of the Child Safety Pilot Program created by the Protect Act, a program designed to keep our kids safe from pedophiles and other criminals.

S. 1280 builds upon language included in the Protect Act at section 108 which authorized a pilot program to study the feasibility of national criminal history background checks for volunteers with organizations that work with children. In section 108, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is authorized to assist child-serving organizations in evaluating criminal history records to determine whether potential volunteers are fit to work with children.

We need to do all that we can to keep pedophiles and other convicted felons away from our kids. That was the intent of the background check provisions Senator HATCH, Chairman SENSENBRENNER, and I worked to include in the Protect Act. Instead of giving volunteer organizations raw criminal history data, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, "NCMEC", agreed to review the FBI's data to determine whether it reveals a criminal history rendering someone unfit to work with children.

Under section 108 of the Protect Act, NCMEC will evaluate FBI-provided criminal history records, make a determination whether these records render a potential volunteer unfit to work with children, and pass this resulting fitness determination on to the requesting volunteer organization. Unfortunately, the Protect Act did not limit NCMEC's civil liability in this area. NCMEC volunteered to take on this task, but they indicated they would be unable to make fitness determinations if they are subject to civil suits by aggrieved volunteers. And while the Protect Act provided NCMEC with a shield from civil liability for operating its cyber tip line, so long as NCMEC does so consistent with the purpose of the tip line, no similar protection was provided with respect to NCMEC's activities under the pilot background check program.

S. 1280 extends NCMEC's immunity from civil liability to actions they take pursuant to the pilot program. NCMEC will still be subject to suit for any criminal actions they take, and liable civilly if a plaintiff can show actual malice or intentional misconduct on NCMEC's part. Specifically, S. 1280 immunizes NCMEC for decisions it makes based on the criminal records provided to them by the FBI in any of the following instances: 1. When NCMEC provides a volunteer organization with a fitness determination indicating that a volunteer is not fit to work with children; 2. When NCMEC provides a volunteer organization with a fitness determination that an individual is fit to serve as a volunteer based on incomplete or inaccurate criminal history records provided by the FBI; or 3. When NCMEC provides a volunteer organization with a fitness determination that an individual is fit to serve as a volunteer based on a lack of criminal history records from the FBI. As an author of S. 1280, I understand my interpretation of the legislation is consistent with that of Chairmen HATCH and SENSENBRENNER.

Enactment of S. 1280 will permit the pilot programs authorized in the Protect Act to begin on the date called for in the legislation, July 29, 2003. I thank my colleagues in the other body for taking prompt action on S. 1280. I thank Chairman HATCH for his continued devotion to child safety issues, and I look forward to the commencement of the Child Safety Pilot Program next week.