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New Bill Aims to Tighten Background Screening Laws

Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, has filed legislation attempting to tighten the screening process for Florida caregivers amidst reports that felons are slipping through the screening process and serving as caregivers for the children and elderly.

The legislation stems from a six month investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that revealed about 3,500 people with criminal records had been approved to work with elderly and disabled people, and about 2,900 had been permitted to work with children. Some of the workers who had been approved had been convicted of murder and rape.

“These types of lapses in screening workers who care for those who can’t help themselves – children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and those battling mental illness and substance abuse – are simply unacceptable,” Rich said in a press release. “We must reform our laws to make sure these security breaches stop before a worker enters the employment door, not after.”

The legislation would end the practice of hiring on blind faith. Under current law, caregivers can start work while their background screenings are still being conducted. It would also require fingerprints to be submitted electronically, so that they can be processed within days instead of weeks or months. And it would permit the Department of Children and Families to re-screen caregivers who have been granted exemptions that allow them to work despite having a criminal past to ensure that these people have not committed another crime.

Rich said the “patchwork of background screening laws” the state has passed haven't kept pace with technology.

“The quality of care these special needs children and adults receive is largely dependent on those delivering it,” said Sen. Rich. “This legislation is a critical security precaution that is long overdue.”

The bill furthermore would not allow the licensing agency to grant any sort of exceptions for a person who has a “felony or misdemeanor conviction for an offense of a violent or sexual nature against a child or a vulnerable adult.”

The bill was filed last week and has not yet been assigned to a committee.

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