State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Tweaks to state-mandated child abuse background checks

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Jul 8, 2015 3:09 PM
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Administrative staff, certain volunteers, and most university employees are no longer required by state law to be fingerprinted and submit to criminal history and child abuse background checks.

The tweaks to the child protection law were signed by Governor Tom Wolf on July 1.

Lawmakers had beefed up background check requirements last legislative session in response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case. But some groups thought the changes went too far -- like university professors who balked at having to be fingerprinted in order to teach their 17-year-old students.

Others were confounded by the employment descriptions lawmakers used to determine who would need the background checks. Schools weren't sure if parent volunteers would need clearances. Fire companies couldn't tell if their "junior firefighters" program meant all firefighters would need to be fingerprinted.

"We thought we'd been specific... giving kind of generalized definitions of who would need a background check, said Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks), who sponsored the changes. "We really weren't. It still confused people."

The new law clarifies that only people who are direct supervisors and responsible for the welfare of children must get the background check.

Added to the list of people who need to get the clearances are adult family members who work as caregivers for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

People who work at institutions of higher education are largely exempt from the background check requirement.

But some universities are still going above and beyond the state requirements. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is making all its workers and volunteers to get the clearances at an estimated up-front cost of $4 million, a spokesman said.

Governor Tom Wolf has waived the background check fee for volunteers in Pennsylvania.

* Update: This post has been edited to reflect the fact that the new child protective services law largely exempts institutions of higher learning. Employees who are responsible for high school students taking courses at colleges and universities would still be required to obtain clearances under the law.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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