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House Considers Beefed-Up Staff Background Checks

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill today that would require schools to conduct comprehensive background checks on employees using state criminal and child abuse registries and the FBI's fingerprint database.

The measure was introduced by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y. It would also bar schools from hiring or keeping on staff anyone who has been convicted of certain violent crimes, including crimes against kids, crimes involving rape or sexual assault, and child pornography.

The legislation is in response to a report issued earlier this week by the Government Accountability Office, which found that schools have, in some cases, hired individuals with histories of sexual misconduct as teachers, coaches, janitors, and administrators, partly because of lax systems of background checks.

The bill sends "a strong message that people who abuse children, or do not do their jobs to keep children safe, will face serious consequences," said Rep. Miller during floor debate.

The full Senate has yet to take up the bill and the legislative clock could run out before it has the chance. Lawmakers are headed out of town soon, so it's tough to say whether the measure will become law before the 111th Congress ends. The next Congress, which includes many new members, will have to start from scratch in January on any bills that aren't finalized before this Congress leaves town.

But, even if the Senate doesn't get around to the bill, the House passage could potentially boost momentum for this issue. Miller, who will be the top Democrat on the Education committee in the new Congress, said today he would like to revisit the topic down the line.

"I hope that in the next Congress we'll be able to take an even more comprehensive approach to protect children in our schools," he said.

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