Senate OKs bill allowing churches to seek background checks for those working or volunteering with children

 

 

 

STATE HOUSE – The Senate today unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne to protect Rhode Island youth by requiring all adults who seek employment or volunteer opportunities with routine contact with children in churches or religious organizations to submit to a national criminal background check if asked.

 

The legislation (2017-S 0661A) is meant to help churches and other religious institutions protect children from people who have a history of abuse or other dangerous crimes. Senator Coyne became aware of the need for the legislation as a result of the May 2015 arrest of the director of religious education at Temple Habonim in Barrington in a statewide child pornography sweep.

 

“Churches and religious organizations rely heavily on volunteers, the vast majority of whom are there for selfless reasons and share the institutions’ dedication to moral behavior. Unfortunately, by virtue of welcoming volunteers, churches and religious institutions make good targets for someone who might want access to children as potential victims. They need all available tools to screen volunteers and employees to ensure that they are providing children a safe experience,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).

 

The bill now goes to the House, where Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren) is sponsoring companion legislation (2017-H 6059).

 

Under the legislation, anyone 18 or older seeking to work or volunteer for any religious organization in a position in which they would have routine contact with children would be required, at the request of the religious organization or house of worship, to undergo a Bureau of Criminal Identification (BCI) national criminal background check for the purpose of determining whether he or she has been convicted of any crime. The cost of the background check would be the applicant’s responsibility.

 

The legislation would not force churches or religious organizations to make BCI checks a requirement. It would only legally allow them to make a BCI check a condition of employment or of accepting any volunteer who would have routine contact with children through their organization.

 

The legislation would not automatically disclose the nature of any crime in an applicant’s history, instead disclosing only that some disqualifying information has been found. However, the applicant would have the option of asking that the specifics be forwarded to the church or organization, which would then have the discretion to determine whether the applicant is eligible to work or volunteer there.

 

The legislation also protects churches and religious organizations from liability for refusing to accept an employee or volunteer based on information received as part of the criminal background checks.

 

Senator Coyne, who is a retired State Police lieutenant, said she understands that national background checks cannot provide a guarantee of safety from predators, since they do not protect against anyone who would be a first-time offender. Some institutions may also wish to allow people with criminal histories to work or volunteer in some capacities if they consider the nature of their particular history to be irrelevant to the position, or if they determine the person has been sufficiently rehabilitated in the time since the offense occurred. However, churches and religious organizations should at least have access to this existing resource if they want it to make informed decisions about applicants with dangerous histories, she said.

 

“It’s an obvious safety issue to let someone, for example, teach religious education if they have a criminal history of abusing children. Giving religious institutions the freedom to require BCI checks and protection from liability allows them to do as much as they can to protect children and prevent tragedies,” said Senator Coyne.

 

The bill is cosponsored by Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket), Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick), Sen. Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket) and Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton).

 

The FAA is ordering fan blade inspections on common airplane engines after one exploded and killed a woman on a Southwest Airlines flight Tuesday. The in-flight explosion blew out a window and killed a passenger who was pulled partway out of the airplane. The FAA announcement late yesterday comes nearly a year after the company that built the engine recommended additional inspections.        President Trump will be leaving West Palm Beach to visit Key West, Florida today. His two-hour visit will include a tour of Naval Air Station Key West-Truman Annex on Boca Chica Key. In addition, the President and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen [[ KIRST-jen ]]Nielsen will be briefed on the activities of an interagency drug task force.        Possible charges in the death of Prince could be filed today. Carver County, Minnesota Attorney Mark Metz will announce his decision soon on whether to charge anyone in the musician's death. The announcement comes two years after the music icon's body was found in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate. Prince died of a massive overdose of fentanyl in April of 2016.        A Celebration of Life for former First Lady Barbara Bush will take place in Houston this evening. The gathering begins tonight outside City Hall. The mayor's office says the event will feature comments and prayers from multiple faith leaders, the reading of a poem, and other tributes. She passed away at the age of 92.        There's a new Cuban president, and his name isn't Castro. Miguel Diaz-Canel was named president today, one day after a vote in the country's National Assembly. It's the first time in almost 60 years that a Castro isn't leading the country. Diaz-Canel was selected as the unopposed candidate to replace Raul Castro, brother of the late Fidel Castro.        Senator Bernie Sanders says Cardi B is right when it comes to social security. The "Bodak Yellow" rapper said in a "GQ" interview last week former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt was "the real 'Make America Great Again'" because he created Social Security. The Vermont Independent and former presidential candidate said on Twitter yesterday that he agrees with her, and that the federal insurance program needs to be strengthened in order to make America great.