State Politics

House OKs background check bill

TALLAHASSEE — Anyone seeking a state-regulated job working with children, seniors and disabled people would have to undergo a more thorough screening process under a bill that unanimously passed Thursday in the Florida House.

It would prohibit applicants from going to work before their screening has been completed and require everyone seeking such a job to be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check.

Existing law permits some people, including employees of day care centers, to work before getting cleared. Some now can get jobs with just name checks instead of getting fingerprinted.

The bill (HB 7069) was filed in response to an investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that showed some convicted felons were slipping through the present process, getting jobs at day care centers, nursing homes and other facilities that help vulnerable people.

Gov. Charlie Crist praised the legislation, which also will need Senate approval before it gets to his desk. A similar bill (SB 1520) has not yet cleared committee in the Senate.

“Florida must continue making significant strides to ensure the safety of those individuals in our care by thoroughly screening the backgrounds of those who work with children, elders, persons with disabilities,” Crist said in a statement.

The bill also would require all fingerprints to be submitted electronically, which can cut processing time from as much as 12 weeks to no more than 48 hours, by July 1, 2012. All those regulated by the Agency for Health Care Administration, though, will have to go electronic after July 1 of this year.

Another key provision would allow only agency heads to approve exemptions for applicants who fail to pass their background checks.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, and co-sponsored by Rep. Ari Porth, D-Coral Springs. Porth commended reporter Sally Kestin, who wrote the Sun-Sentinel articles.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement crosschecked the newspaper’s list of 8,750 people who had been granted exemptions. It found 1,818 had been arrested again. The agency also found about half of those exempted had committed felonies, mostly related to drugs or theft.

The new procedures would apply, effective July 1, only to new applicants and workers who are required to be rescreened from time to time.