It’s no surprise that Pennsylvania legislators passed a law after the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal that expanded checks for anyone who has direct contact with children.
But some lawmakers, now saying the law went too far, are trying to retreat on some of the protections.
On Monday, a House committee advanced a bill aimed at making the checks less burdensome to organizations that rely on volunteers.
State Rep. Dan Truitt said if the law isn’t clarified, groups that depend on volunteers could see their numbers diminish, which could result in cutting programs.
“A lot of organizations are interpreting the new law to mean that all of those volunteers have to have the background checks,” said Truitt, R-Chester. “And at 20 bucks a pop, that adds up. It will discourage some volunteers, who will say, ‘Hey, I’m already giving you my time, now you want me to give you 20 bucks?” Truitt said.
A state criminal background check and a child abuse clearance each cost $10. The law change does not apply to federal criminal background checks, which cost $27 and generally only apply to people who’ve lived outside of Pennsylvania.
Truitt said the checks should still be in place for those who have regular, one-on-one contact with children.
Yet for organizations including the Boy Scouts, whose operation depends on thousands of volunteers, the checks are not necessary or reasonable, he said.
“People are interpreting [the law] to mean that everybody who’s had any contact with kids has to have this background check, and that’s not what the original law intended,” Truitt said. “Understandably, organizations are taking the broadest interpretation to cover themselves from liability.”
State Rep. Katharine Watson, R-Bucks, is sponsoring a bill that intends to loosen some of the background check requirements. It is expected to be combined with Rep. Truitt’s bill, which prevents State Police and the Department of Human Services from charging volunteers a fee for background checks.
Child protection advocates, meanwhile, have said tweaking the law out of convenience could endanger children