Pennsylvania State Senate Closes Background Check Loophole

By Michael Klazema on 5/18/2016

In 2014, Pennsylvania passed one of the most sweeping packages of background check legislation ever, as the state legislature responded to the infamous Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University. The package of bills contained some two-dozen child welfare laws, several of them calling for background checks of adults who work with children. Under the laws, for instance, even parent volunteers at schools have to pass background checks.

However, in the process of updating their child welfare laws, someone made a blunder. One of the laws had previously listed positions where employers should always run background checks of the people they hire. This list included jobs like doctors and hospital staff, members of the clergy, and other positions that provide adults with regular or semi-regular contact with children. When the laws were revised and repackaged in 2014, though, this list of specific jobs disappeared from the legislative record. As a result, the law change could be interpreted as exempting people in those positions from background check requirements.

According to a report from, most hospitals in the state—at least all of the ones that the site interviewed—continued running background checks on their doctors and staff as they had before. In other words, it doesn't seem like anyone took the law change as a license to stop screening doctors or other high-responsibility professionals.

Still, the worry that an employer could stop vetting employees who spend considerable time with children was enough to scare Pennsylvania's state legislature into action. PennLive says that the State Senate has unanimously passed a measure that clarifies the law. Under the new Senate bill, it would be explicitly clear that healthcare professionals and clergy members have to pass background checks before they can work with children.

The loophole isn't closed just yet, though. While the State Senate voted 48-0 to approve the bill, that vote was just one step in the legislative process. Next, the bill will go to the House for approval. If it gets a passing vote there, it will head to the desk of Governor Tom Wolf. Only with Tom Wolf's signature will the law clarify that people in the healthcare industry and the clergy must have background checks to work with children.

In other words, the Pennsylvania state legislature is jumping through quite a few hoops to fix a mistake that could presumably have been easily avoided the first time. Ultimately, the final result—a set of laws that maintains the extra protections of the 2014 reform, but includes this key clarification—will be worth the process. Still, this incident should serve as a reminder that even small details are highly important in background check-related laws.


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