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Hatch, Biden, Specter Child Protection Legislation Clears Judiciary Committee

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Law Would Expand Background Checks on Volunteers Who Work with Children

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation authored by three former chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-Del.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). The Child Protection Improvements Act of 2008 (S.2756) will expand and make permanent a national child safety protection pilot program established in the 2003 PROTECT Act.

The program which has its genesis in the 1993 Child Protection Act - known as the Oprah Winfrey Act because of her strong advocacy for its passage - was created to allow youth-serving organizations such as MENTOR/the National Mentoring Partnership and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to run FBI background checks on prospective volunteers to determine whether they may present a potential threat to children.

"Millions of people volunteer to work with our nation's youth every year," said Biden, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs. "These individuals are the lifeblood of youth-serving organizations. The vast majority of them have the best interests of our children at heart, but we've got to do everything we can to keep away those who prey on our kids. This legislation will help the Boys & Girls Clubs, and others like them, screen volunteers and keep our kids safe."

Since the pilot program was created, over 40,000 background checks have been performed. Of these volunteer applicants, 6.1 percent were found to have criminal backgrounds that rendered them potentially unfit to work with children, including sexual crimes against children. Nearly 40 percent had moved across state lines with the hope of leaving their records of conviction behind and once again having unfettered access to children. The program is set to expire on July 30, 2008.

"Youth-service organizations, such as the Boy Scouts in Utah and other states across the nation, are unable to obtain federal criminal history records of volunteers. When individuals have unsupervised contact with children, we should be sure that their past doesn't include serious crimes," said Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs. "This bill will ensure that organizations throughout the nation have the ability to sort out the wolves in sheep's clothing."

"I am pleased to cosponsor the Child Protection Improvement Act, which will enable organizations who work with children to confidently screen volunteers using a nationwide background check system," said Specter, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. "I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass this legislation."

Despite the effectiveness of the pilot program, it was limited in several respects. First, only a limited number of organizations could access the system, and second, inconsistencies in the appropriations process left many organizations unable to apply for background checks. To address these deficiencies, the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2008 opens the program to more youth-serving organizations and provides a means for a steady stream of resources to allow the program to grow toward the goal of protecting more children. Today's legislation also includes a reporting requirement to allow Congress to assess the effectiveness and impact of the background checks conducted under this bill.

Specifically, the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2008 will:

• Make the pilot program permanent;
• Create an Applicant Processing Center (APC) to assist youth-serving organizations with the administrative tasks related to accessing the system, including the collection of fingerprints and working with the FBI on fees;
• Establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as a "criminal history resource center" to assist youth-serving organizations on how to interpret criminal history records;
• Authorize a fee of no more than $25 to pay for the FBI for the background check and to off-set the expenses incurred by the new Applicant Processing Center; and
• Include privacy protections as recommended by the Department of Justice to ensure that criminal histories and related records are used and disposed of appropriately.

The bill has been endorsed by a wide cross section of youth-serving, nonprofit organizations, including the American Camp Association, Afterschool Alliance, America's Promise Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Communities In Schools, Inc., First Focus, MENTOR/The National Mentoring Partnership and YMCA of the USA.

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