State Auditor Nicole Galloway last week praised a change to Missouri law that she said will help protect children at their schools. House Bill 604, now headed to the Governor's desk, requires school districts to ensure that volunteers undergo criminal background checks before being left alone with children.
Auditor Galloway urged legislators to add the requirement after her audit of the state's sexual offender registration program last fall found background checks were mandatory for school employees, but not volunteers. State Sen. Lincoln Hough, of Springfield, introduced legislation requiring the background checks for volunteers; that language was included in HB 604, the omnibus education bill passed by the General Assembly this month with bipartisan support.
"When we find ways to better protect our kids, it's imperative to take quick action to keep those students safe," Auditor Galloway said. "As the mother of three young sons, I appreciate Sen. Hough answering my call for this change, and I urge the Governor to sign this bipartisan measure into law."
“When I was made aware of the inconsistency of when background checks were being used, I was glad to help for the safety of all children,” Sen. Hough said.
“Schools have an obligation to create an environment that is inhospitable to child sexual abuse,” said Jessica Seitz, Director of Public Policy of Missouri KidsFirst. “Failure to conduct background checks on all adults coming into contact with students alone offers more opportunities for perpetrators to form relationships, test boundaries and engage in dangerous behaviors with children. Passage of HB 604 closed a loophole in our current laws. We thank Auditor Galloway, Sen. Hough and the rest of the General Assembly for prioritizing the safety of Missouri children with this legislation.”
HB 604 requires school districts to ensure that a criminal background check is conducted for all volunteers who may be periodically left alone with students. The bill says those volunteers include, but are not limited to, persons who regularly assist in the office or library, mentor or tutor students, coach or supervise a school-sponsored activity before or after school, or chaperone students on an overnight trip.
Auditor Galloway said her office currently is conducting a follow-up to the audit of the sex offender registration program. The audit found that because the registration requirements were inadequately enforced at the local level, 1,259 registered sex offenders failed to follow the law. That number represents 7.9 percent of the almost 16,000 offenders required to register. In several counties and the city of St. Louis, the locations of over 10 percent of registered sex offenders were unknown to law enforcement.
The follow-up report on the sex offender registration program is expected to be completed early this summer.