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Schumer unveils legislation to give youth organizations access to FBI background checks

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Approximately 70 new sex offenders have registered with north country counties in the last year, bringing the number of registered sex offenders in the eight-county region to 1,640, according to U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer.

And those are just New York state figures. Without access to federal criminal background checks, it is hard to determine how many more sex offenders may be moving here from other states.

To prevent these offenders from working with children, Sen. Schumer is proposing legislation that would grant camps, children’s groups and other nonprofit organizations access to FBI databases to conduct background checks on new employees or volunteers.

“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,” Sen. Schumer said in a news release.

Only about one-third of states allow a range of youth-serving organizations to access FBI searches, and New York is not one of them, according to the release.

And even when those services are available, they can be expensive and time-consuming, discouraging many groups from conducting federal background checks.

In New York, people can get access to their own criminal history records by requesting them from the state and paying a fee.

Mentoring organizations can register with the state to get access to fingerprint checks from within the state, but not outside of it.

Sen. Schumer’s legislation — The Child Protection Improvements and Electronic Life and Safety Security Systems Act of 2013 — calls for the creation of a clearinghouse where organizations focused on serving children could turn for help in accessing the federal databases.

By calling a toll-free number at the Department of Justice, organizations would be directed to a local police station where systems to transmit fingerprint information already are in place.

For a small processing fee, police then would send fingerprints from the prospective employee or volunteer to the DOJ, where they would be run through the FBI database, which includes both state and federal crimes from every state.

To protect privacy, the organization would not receive an individual’s full record but would be informed if the individual had a serious conviction, an open arrest or another cause not to be hired.

There will be no increased tax burden, as the cost of the service would be paid for by the requesting organization, Sen. Schumer said.

As support for the proposed legislation, Sen. Schumer provided statistics from the now-expired 2003 PROTECT Act Child Safety Pilot, which gave youth-serving organizations access to FBI fingerprint background checks through state governments.

According to the release, as of Sept. 10, 2010, of the 77,000 background checks performed through the pilot in seven years, more than 6 percent of volunteers were found to have a criminal record of concern — including offenses such as sexual abuse of minors, assaults, murder and serious drug offenses.

More than 40 percent had committed their crimes in a state other than where they were applying to volunteer.

Sen. Schumer also noted in the release that fingerprint-based background checks are more reliable than name-based checks.

Of the individuals screened by the pilot program, nearly 23 percent gave a name to organizations other than what appeared on their criminal records.

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