State Representative Anthony Giarrusso’s (R-East Greenwich, West Greenwich) legislation to require national background checks for all employees of firms contracting with Rhode Island school districts passed the House chamber on Thursday, March 27.
The legislation, developed in cooperation with Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, expands the definition of employment to include contract employees and employees of third-party contractors, such as school bus drivers and monitors, cafeteria staff, etc.
Giarrusso’s bill also adds conviction for possession and sharing of child pornography to the list of “disqualifying information” for employment, automatically disqualifying an individual from employment.
“I am extremely pleased that the House overwhelmingly supported this legislation,” said Rep. Giarrusso. “This bill expands protection of school children across the state, and helps ensure our kids are not placed in vulnerable situations with people hired to care and look after them,” Giarrusso said.
The legislation grew out of an incident in East Greenwich in November 2013 in which a school bus monitor working for a third-party contractor was arrested on charges of possessing and sharing child pornography. The episode sparked vocal meetings between school officials and parents demanding tougher screening of those coming into contact with children at school.
Coincidentally, the bus monitor was assigned to a bus on which Giarrusso’s 11-year-old son traveled to school, and Giarrusso at the time committed to filing legislation to require tighter controls.
Investigation revealed a loophole in state law which required national background checks only for direct employees of public and private schools and school districts. The new legislation closes that loophole.
“Our children are very vulnerable in a school setting due to the close environment where they must rely on the trust of adults around them. It is essential that our schools provide a safe environment for our children to focus on their educational needs; this law must be amended to protect our students from sexual predators. Unfortunately, an event in November of 2013 brought these dangerous loopholes in the current background check law to light. I am pleased to have worked with Representative Giarrusso to act swiftly to fix the system, and thank the House of Representatives for moving quickly to pass this important piece of legislation,” said Attorney General Kilmartin.
Giarrusso said he was greatly appreciative of the attorney general’s support in drafting the legislation and assisting in closing the loophole.
“It was a great collaboration. We had a common goal of making this a safer place for all of our children. It just goes to show that when there’s a need for something, these bills can move forward quickly for the betterment of all.”
Giarrusso’s bill was co-sponsored by four Democratic legislators, Rep. Anastasia Williams (D-Providence), House Majority Whip John G. Edwards (D-Portsmouth, Tiverton), Rep. Patricia Serpa (D- West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) and Rep. Donald Lally (D-Narragansett, South Kingstown).
The bill will now head to the State Senate for consideration.