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Judiciary panel approves 2008 child protection bill

On May 22, the United States Senate's judiciary committee approved child protection legislation authored by three former chairmen.

The former committee chairmen include Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Sen Joseph Biden of Delaware and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

The Child Protection Improvements Act of 2008 - Senate Bill 2756 will expand and make permanent a national child safety protection pilot program established in 2003.

According to authors of the current federal legislation, the program, which has its genesis in the 1993 Child Protection Act, was created to allow youth-serving organizations to run Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks on prospective volunteers to determine whether the individuals may present a potential threat to children.

Since the pilot program was created, more than 40,000 background checks have been performed.

Of the volunteer applicants, 6.1 percent were found to have criminal backgrounds that rendered them potentially unfit to work with children, including sexual crimes against children.

Nearly 40 percent had moved across state lines with the hope of leaving their records of conviction behind and once again having unfettered access to children.

The program is set to expire on July 30, 2008.

"Youth-service organizations such as the Boy Scouts in Utah and other states across the nation are unable to obtain federal criminal history records of volunteers. When individuals have unsupervised contact with children, we should be sure that their past doesn't include serious crimes," pointed out Hatch. "This bill will ensure that organizations throughout the nation have the ability to sort out the wolves in sheep's clothing."

Despite the effectiveness of the pilot program, it was limited in several respects.

First, only a limited number of organizations could access the system.

Second, inconsistencies in the appropriations process left many organizations unable to apply for background checks.

To address the deficiencies, the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2008 opens the program to more youth-serving organizations and provides a means for a steady stream of resources to allow the program to grow toward the goal of protecting more children.

The latest federal legislation also includes a reporting requirement to allow the U.S. Congress to assess the effectiveness and impact of the background checks conducted under the bill.

Specifically, the authors indicated that Child Protection Improvements Act of 2008 will:

•Make the pilot program permanent.

•Create an applicant processing center (APC) to assist youth-serving organizations with the administrative tasks related to accessing the system.

Examples include collection of fingerprints and working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on fees.

•Establish the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as a "criminal history resource center" to assist youth-serving organizations on how to interpret criminal history records.

•Authorize a fee of no more than $25 to pay for the FBI for the background check and to offset the expenses incurred by the new applicant processing center.

•Include privacy protections as recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure that criminal histories and related records are used and disposed of appropriately.

"Millions of people volunteer to work with our nation's youth every year," said Biden. "These individuals are the lifeblood of youth-serving organizations. The vast majority of them have the best interests of our children at heart, but we've got to do everything we can to keep away those who prey on our kids. This legislation will help the boys and girls clubs and others like them screen volunteers and keep our kids safe."

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