Pa. governor waives fees for volunteers seeking background checks
June 10, 2015 10:46 PM
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Gov. Tom Wolf announced today that fees for child abuse clearances and criminal background checks will be waived for volunteers working with children, saving them $20 in clearance fees.
By Luke Nozicka / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After several legislators expressed concerns that new requirements for background checks would be cost-prohibitive and unfair to volunteers who work with children, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that some of the fees will be waived starting July 25.
Fees for child-abuse clearances and criminal background checks will be waived, saving volunteers who work with children $16 in clearance fees.
Beginning July 1, the checks will be required under a state law enacted late last year.
Also, the Pennsylvania State Police and the state Department of Human Services will cut by $2 the cost of the criminal history record and the child-abuse background check to $8 from $10 each. Volunteers who already applied for the clearances will not be reimbursed.
In October, former Gov. Tom Corbett signed the bill into law, requiring anyone working with children, paid or unpaid, to obtain and renew clearances every 36 months. It was one of 23 pieces of legislation enacted last year meant to change how the state responds to child abuse.
Under the law, Pennsylvania residents who have lived in the state for at least 10 years must obtain the State Police Criminal Record Check and the Child Abuse History Clearance. It also requires newer Pennsylvanians to clear the FBI’s Criminal Background Check, which costs more than $25 and requires the applicant to be fingerprinted.
The governor’s move comes after Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, introduced a House bill on Monday that would give volunteers a free clearance from the state police check and another from the Department of Human Services every three years.
During a May 29 news conference at the Evergreen Volunteer Fire Department, Rep. Dom Costa, D-Stanton heights, announced a bill that would waive these fees for volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service responders.
“They provide billions of dollars of relief to this commonwealth for the service they provide,” Mr. Costa said. “This is going to go further from here because this is the start — the firefighters, EMS. But we have many volunteers — schools, cafeterias … . If you want to go on a field trip with your child, you need a background check. That’s not fair.”
Regardless of the fees, some say the checks are a grueling process.
Will Swanson, who has been a referee at Sewickley Area Soccer for more than 10 years, recently stopped working youth games because of it.
“It’s an invasive procedure,” said Mr. Swanson, 25, of Sewickley. “It asks who you have lived with, who your roommates are … your Social Security [number].”
Michelle Snyder, who counsels churches and congregations on how to get the clearances, said while she has heard religious groups “complain about having to do it,” she thinks organizations would lose very few volunteers because of it.
“Really, the issue is churches are sort of somewhere in between proactive and panicked,” Ms. Snyder, executive director of the Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute, said of churches having to complete the clearances by next month. But, she noted, “at the end of the day, this is becoming the norm.”
From Jan. 1 to April 30, there were more than 61,000 clearance applications received for volunteers, according to the governor’s office, which projects that number to grow to 296,836 for fiscal year 2015-16.
Since the electronic system went live in December, more than 512,500 clearance applications for employees have been received by the Department of Human Services, and state police processed about 828,500 Criminal History Record Checks from January to May.
Luke Nozicka: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lukenozicka.
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