Background Check Changes Could Have Big Impact
A sweeping overhaul of the laws dealing with background screening of those who work with children and the elderly got its first public hearing Tuesday, but a number of complications may trip up the bill as it goes through the legislative process.
“I think we have the policy in order,” said Rep. Will Snyder, R-Stuart, chairman of the House Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council. “As a legislative body we know where we want to go. We want to protect the elderly, we want to protect children, the disabled. The objections are the people that have to live with the consequences of our actions – the owners of the assisted living facilities, the owners of the nursing homes, the day care operators.”
The Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council, which House Speaker Larry Cretul had charged with examining the issue, produced a committee bill that creates a variety of changes to the current law, which requires background checks for people who work with the state's vulnerable populations.
The move 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.
The proposed changes include requiring that all potential employees must pass the background check before starting work. Now, employees can work up to six weeks while they wait for the results of the screening.
Also in the bill is a requirement for electronic fingerprinting as of July 1, 2012, and a ban on sex offenders from working in any of the licensed facilities covered in the bill. The measure would also provide more scrutiny on some workers. Currently, some employees of facilities with vulnerable people in their care are only subjected to a check of their name against certain state records. Under the legislation, a fingerprinting search against state and national records would also be included.
But the technical problems that would ultimately affect many businesses may trip up the proposal. Ten amendments were added Tuesday to the legislation to clean up language and minimize the harm to the private sector, and there may be more on the way.
In addition to increased costs for the background checks, there are also some potential hidden headaches, said Janet Mabry of the Florida Association of Child Care Management. Mabry noted that if a teacher quits suddenly, his or her students would have to be put into another class. But that added number of children could put the day care center out of whack with state regulations about the ratio of day care professionals to children.
“If I get a call from my teacher and she quits, and that 2- year-old classroom doesn't have a teacher, it's very difficult to call all the parents and say don't bring your 2-year-old in,” Mabry said.
Snyder told people who were voicing complaints in the committee to contact legislative staff to propose language that might help mitigate any potential problems that the changes might bring about. He said there will likely still be changes made as the bill continues through the process.
“It's a big policy shift and the people who have to live with it have every right to be concerned,” he said.
Snyder said the Senate is waiting for the House to work out some of the questions in the proposal, and will base its version on that. Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, chair of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, will be the sponsor.