HELP leaders block bill requiring background checks in schools

Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) tried to pass a bill that would have required background checks on all school employees, but Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) objected to their unanimous consent request.

The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act, S. 1596, would require schools to conduct background checks on all school employees in order for the school to get federal education funding. If an employee had committed a violent or sexual crime, the school would have had to fire them.

Harkin and Alexander argued that the bill should go through the legislative process on their panel — the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee — because it would affect every school across the country.

“I certainly favor the goals of this legislation,” Harkin said. “[But] we need to take a closer look at it.”

Toomey said immediate passage of the bill was necessary because 130 teachers have already been arrested this year for sexual misconduct with children. The House has already passed similar legislation.

“There are some folks who say, ‘let’s wait, we need more time,’ ” Toomey said. “I say we can’t wait any longer.”

The bill would also require states to use federal background check systems and bans people who committed other felonies from working in a school until five years after the crime.

Alexander said he wasn’t comfortable with federal mandates on schools. He said background checks should be decided by the states. 

"Are we to say that we know better than they?" Alexander said. "I think we should be enablers, not mandators." 

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