Washington State Fair Cracks Down on Sex Offenders with Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 9/22/2014

The Washington State Fair is one of the largest carnival or fair events in the entire country, stretching on for 17 days from the beginning of September to late in the month. In that time, the fair's home base of the Puyallup fairgrounds sees about a million visitors, from teenagers to families with young kids, and beyond.

Last year, the Washington State Fair was somewhat mired in controversy when three Level 1 sex offenders were found to be working at the event as ride operators. While "Level 1" is the lowest level of sex offender and is typically a status given to offenders who are not expected to re-offend and who therefore do not pose a substantial public risk, such offenders would typically still not be allowed to work jobs that put them in close contact with children.

Since ride operators at fairs and carnivals do have close contact with children, though, the fact that three Level 1 offenders were working such jobs at last year's Washington State Fair was alarming to say the least and made more than a few parents wonder if it was safe to bring their children to the event. Like with other county or state fair events, the ride operators were not employed by the state fair itself, but were instead employees of Funtastic, a company contracted to provide rides and amusements for the fair.

This year, to address last year's oversights, officials for the Washington State Fair decided to implement background checks to root out sex offenders and other criminals. According to statistics reported by The News Tribune, a Tacoma-based newspaper, about 925 workers were screened under the new background check policy this year, including 650 Funtastic workers, a number that includes both ride and game operators, as well as an additional 275 of the fair's own employees. Those numbers are up significantly from last year, when only some ride operators, and no game operators, were put through any form of screening. The Washington State Fair employs roughly 1,500 people each fall.

But while this year's background check security has definitely taken big strides from last years, Washington politicians think there's still room for improvement. Liz Pike, a Republican Representative, thinks there should be "sweeping background checks" for every single worker at the fair. She's drafting a bill that would require such sweeping checks, not just for the Washington State Fair, but for other similar county events throughout Washington.

If passed, the bill would make Washington one of the only states in the country to legally require background checks for county and state fair workers. That's surprising, since finding sex offenders and violent criminals at these carnival events has been a common headline lately. While some cities, towns, and counties do have laws on the books that require ride contractors to run background checks on their workers, such laws haven't really made it to the state level yet in most areas.


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