By Andy Metzger
State House News Service
BOSTON -- With a bill intended to fine-tune a 2012 background-check law, Massachusetts could join the rest of the country in running FBI background checks on teachers and other individuals who work with children.
The Legislature had intended to accomplish the expanded background checks for child-care workers with a bill that cleared both chambers last December and was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick in January. However, there were specific references in the new law that did not match up with federal law, according to Rep. Alice Peisch, the House chairwoman of the Committee on Education.
"The changes, basically, are just including the correct references to federal statutes that authorize the FBI to do the fingerprint checks," Peisch told the News Service. "The FBI will not do them unless the language is exactly right."
School-bus drivers, day-care providers and camp counselors are currently required to undergo checks of their state criminal record, according to Peisch, as are school teachers. Once the legislation is honed to comply with federal requirements, Massachusetts will join the rest of the nation in running those child-care workers through a national background check.
"I believe we're the only state not to do that," said Peisch, a Wellesley Democrat.
The current law could allow employers to miss a troubling conviction in another state, including for crimes that would qualify someone as a sex offender, according to House Minority Leader Brad Jones, a North Reading Republican.
Jones, who pushed the legislation with Peisch last session, said the law is geared toward employment relationships, as opposed to volunteers who might still need to undergo state background checks.
The bill (S 1839) cleared the House Committee on Ways and Means in an email poll that ended Friday afternoon, with 17 members voting in favor and one member reserving his or her rights. A Ways and Means aide said the bill is likely to reach the House floor within the next month.
"I haven't heard of anybody who has an issue with it," Jones said. "Hopefully, it's pretty straightforward."
The law that the bill seeks to correct was passed near the end of the last session, during informal sessions in which no roll-call votes are taken, no debates are undertaken, and any member can block the body from taking an action if he or she attends the session and raises an objection.
Though the bill signed into law in January attempted to plug the state's education officials into a federal criminal database, state regulators discovered earlier this year that the law would not suffice to grant access to the FBI's records.
The FBI does not "comment on potential legislation," so state officials did not know that last year's bill was insufficient until they attempted to implement it, Peisch said.