Jun. 17, 2015

HARRISBURG – To further clarify the types of volunteers and employees who are required to obtain background checks to work with children, Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks/144th) has authored and secured House approval of legislation to address many of the questions surfacing from Act 153 of 2014.

Act 153 calls for additional and periodic background checks for both employees and volunteers who are directly involved with children: state police criminal background checks and Department of Human Services (DHS) child abuse clearances. In addition, FBI background checks are required for all affected employees and adult volunteers who have lived in Pennsylvania for fewer than 10 continuous years.

“When we passed the comprehensive child protection package last session, we knew that as the laws began to take effect, there may be instances in which we’d need to revisit the law, clarify definitions or make requirements more practical and less onerous,” said Watson, who serves as the chairman of the House Children and Youth Committee. “Over the last few months, the administration, key state agencies, the Senate and the House have discussed at length many of the unintended consequences resulting from these new laws, namely Act 153. With a great deal of confusion and misinformation circulating among the public, our goal is to make these clearances more applicable to the real world while also ensuring children are protected.”

The legislation passing the House today includes a number of clarifications and modifications. Most notably, the legislation is designed to more clearly define who is and who is not subject to the background check requirements and, where possible, make the requirements less onerous for adult volunteers.

“The objective is to strike a better balance between protecting children and not making the requirements for volunteers so onerous that the result is losing both volunteers and consequently programs beneficial to children,” Watson added.

Under House Bill 1276, only those volunteers and employees with direct and routine interaction with a child as part of a child care service, a school, or a program, activity or service would need to obtain the clearances. For example, a Sunday school teacher and Scout leader would need the clearances, while a cook at a youth camp, a parent dropping off baked goods at a school or a guest reader/performer would not.

Other provisions of the legislation seek to make the clearances better apply to real-world situations by:

• Exempting volunteers from the $10 fees for the DHS child abuse clearances and state police criminal background checks. On June 10, the administration waived the fees for volunteers only, effective July 25. The administration is also reducing the clearances to $8 each for affected employees.

• Allowing background check clearances for employees to apply to all paid positions in which they work directly with children. The portability is already in law for volunteers.

• Permitting employers or organizations to accept non-original copies of the required documents on file, rather than the original copies to be maintained by the employer or organization.

The legislation now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

Last year, the Department of Human Services processed more than 600,000 child abuse clearance applications, with more than 460,000 from January through May this year. Half of the DHS clearances are being applied for online, in the first year that the online option has been available.

Only new volunteers must obtain the clearances by July 1, 2015, while existing volunteers or volunteers never before required to obtain them have until July 1, 2016, to secure the clearances.

More information is available at KeepKidsSafe.pa.gov.

Representative Kathy Watson
144th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Jennifer Keaton
KathyWatson144.com / Facebook.com/RepWatson