Sen. Chuck Schumer is calling on the Senate to pass a bill giving summer camps and charities access to a national FBI registry of sex offenders to help screen camp workers.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) appeared Monday at Coleman Country Day Camp in Freeport where he and camp workers called on lifting FBI restrictions that force camps to pay for background checks and only search sex offender registries by individual states.
Long Island camps may use employment screenings, which generally cost about $80 per person, but Schumer said sex offenders can go undetected by moving from state to state.
Schumer said many camps can’t afford background checks and have to rely on interviews or “a hunch” to weed out sex offenders. That approach has led to some offenders being hired and putting children at risk, Schumer said.
“Right now there’s a serious flaw in federal law making it harder for good employers like Coleman to keep kids safe,” Schumer said. “Sometimes a hunch is good enough, but oftentimes it isn’t, with awful, awful consequences.”
Schumer cited a 2013 case of Daryl Vonneida in upstate Schuyler County. Vonneida was a Boy Scout leader, church counselor, and soccer and baseball coach who was found guilty on 14 criminal counts after sexually abusing children for more than 40 years, Schumer said. A national background check might have turned up Vonneida’s convictions and prevented his hire at any youth-serving organization or not-for-profit, Schumer said.
The existing legislation gives law enforcement agencies access to the national registry, and the FBI has resisted broadening access without congressional approval, Schumer said. The lists are already compiled and giving nonprofits access would not require any additional funding, he said.
“Our number one concern is the safety of our children,” camp director Ross Coleman said. “We do everything we can to protect children, but the national registry can only do what we want to do desperately and check across the country.”
The new bill to expand access is currently in the Senate Judiciary Committee and would open the registry to charities and camps to screen 15 million potential staffers at a minimal cost, Schumer said.
There are 38,000 registered sex offenders in New York, including 556 registered in Nassau County and 1,064 in Suffolk County.
About 40 percent of crimes in child-care organizations come from workers out of state, Schumer said. Of the 77,000 background checks conducted in 2010 by the Department of Justice, about 6 percent had a criminal background, including sexual abuse, he said.
““This law would stop that,” Schumer said. “This shouldn’t be caught in the partisan maw of Washington. Camps shouldn’t face a large expense to use these lists.”