Monday, October 19, 2009

Senator Rich Files Legislation Aimed at Tightening Background Screenings of Florida's Caregivers/Blind faith hiring to halt under proposed bill

Hundreds of ex-felons – including many with convictions for violent crimes – are caring for some of Florida’s most vulnerable residents, including children. But, if state Senator Nan Rich (D-Weston) has her way, that’s about to stop.

“These types of lapses in screening workers who care for those who can’t help themselves – children, senior citizens, people with disabilities and those battling mental illness and substance abuse – are simply unacceptable. We must reform our laws to make sure these security breaches stop before a worker enters the employment door, not after,” said Sen. Rich.

The South Florida Democrat announced on Monday that she has filed legislation intended to tighten background screening laws and boost the state’s use of more advanced technology to weed out those potentially dangerous to the dependents in their care.

The concern about such security lapses stems from a recent series of reports published by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which revealed that about 3,500 people with criminal records have been permitted to work with elderly and disabled people, and about 2,900 have been permitted to work with children. Some workers have even been convicted of murder and rape, and yet were still allowed to continue such employment.

“Unfortunately, the patchwork of background screening laws that were enacted over the years haven’t kept pace with advances in screening technology, aren’t consistent for different types of workers, and frankly, don’t reflect an adequate level of concern for the safety of people who need special care,” said Sen. Rich.

The legislation sponsored by Rich is aimed at significantly reforming the way background screenings are conducted. For example, among the provisions of Senate Bill 428 is one targeting hiring on blind faith. Caregivers will no longer be able to start work until after their background screenings are complete.

Other provisions of the bill include the following:

· Require all fingerprints to be submitted electronically, so that they can be processed within days, not weeks or months.

· Permit DCF to re-screen caregivers who have been granted exemptions that allow them to work despite having a past criminal conviction, to ensure that these people have not committed another crime.

“The quality of care these special needs children and adults receive is largely dependent on those delivering it,” said Sen. Rich. “This legislation is a critical security precaution that is long overdue.”

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