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Will we finally get a national background check for DDS hires?

June 24, 2013 2 comments

A little more than two years ago, I wrote about a man who had served a year in prison in California for having sex with a minor before violating probation and fleeing to Massachusetts where he took a job driving people with intellectual disabilities to day programs.

I noted that this individual’s out-of-state conviction was not picked up in an in-state background check done on him in Massachusetts.  That was because a longstanding bill that would require that national background checks be done of people hired to work in the Department of Developmental Disabilities system had not yet been enacted by the Massachusetts Legislature.

It’s now two years later, and the DDS national background check is still pending in the state Legislature.  In the past two years, it was approved by the Judiciary Committee, but never got out of the House Ways and Means Committee.

This year the measure (H. 1674) is pending once again in the Judiciary Committee, awaiting a scheduled hearing before the committee on  July 9.  This much-needed bill has been filed each year going back as long as a decade by Representative Martin Walsh of Boston.  It has never been clear to us why the bill has never made it through the legislative process or who has opposed it.

National background check legislation for new DDS hires has long been supported by a wide range of advocacy organizations for the developmentally disabled.  We know of no advocacy groups that have voiced any opposition to it.

The Patrick administration and the Legislature appear to support national background checks in general.  In 2010, the state upgraded its criminal records database to make it compatible with databases in other states and the FBI.  And last year, Governor Patrick signed a bill into law  (Chapter 459 of the Acts of 1012), which requires that all persons hired to work in public, private and parochial schools in the state as well as employees of contractors to the school systems and child care organizations undergo national background checks.   Massachusetts apparently became the last state in the nation to impose those requirements.

However, the DDS in Massachusetts still hasn’t been authorized to require that the people whom the Department or its providers hire also submit to national background checks.  H. 1674 would provide that authorization.

State regulations currently authorize DDS to require only that Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) checks be done on individuals hired to work in both state and privately operated facilities in the DDS system.  However, CORI records list only criminal arrests and convictions in Massachusetts and do not identify any convictions a job applicant might have from another state.  A national background check system would fill in those potential gaps in the records of persons seeking to work with intellectually disabled persons in Massachusetts.

In enacting the requirement for national background checks for school employees, legislators maintained that such checks would prevent people with convictions for abusing children in other states from coming into contact with Massachusetts schoolchildren.  But schoolchildren aren’t the only ones who are at risk for sexual and other types of abuse.  People with developmental disabilities are at high risk as well.

H. 1674 appears to have numerous checks built into it to protect the rights and privacy of persons applying for DDS positions.  The measure would give persons seeking DDS employment the right to inspect and contest the accuracy of out-of-state records and would require the Criminal History Systems Board to help resolve any such contested records within 30 days.

In addition, H. 1674 would require that only information from other states regarding convictions and open cases be made available to DDS or providers considering individuals applying for employment.  Juvenile records would not be made available.  The national background checks system would be jointly overseen  by the Criminal History Systems Board, the Disabled Persons Protection Commission, and the State Police.

Clearly, this legislation is long overdue.  The question is whether this will finally be the year for it.

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