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Background checks for employees in Hi Ed?

While Utah primary and secondary school employees, are required to submit to background checks, most employees hired by institutions of higher education do not have to submit to such checks.

A substitute House Bill 196, which would require background checks of higher education employees, received a favorable recommendation by the Utah House of Representatives on Monday, Feb. 19, moved on by a vote of 11 to 4.

Locally, this bill would apply to the Utah Valley State College Wasatch County campus, especially with the changes it likely will go through if UVSC achieves university status.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Menlove, R-Box Elder, Tooele, would require that employees in close contact with minors (those under 21), or in security sensitive positions, be subject to background checks . Yet as the bill stands, adjunct professors would not have to submit to such checks.

"This bill came about as I was working with University of Utah concurrent enrollment instructors, and I realized they needed criminal background checks out in the schools teaching high school students face-to-face," said Menlove. "It dawned on me we have high school students who graduate at 17 years of age who come to the university, and we don’t do background checks — except for police, financial positions and hospital employees who work with a vulnerable population."

"The University of Montana, the University of Idaho have criminal background checks, as well as all Big 10 schools," Menlove said. "It was the Big 10 schools who implemented the background checks after they found they had a convicted murderer teaching at Penn State."

"The dorm workers are the ones who really worry me," Menlove said. "The people who have a continued exposure to the younger population."

HB 196 would require background checks on one-half of the employees considered by the bill in the first year, the other half in the second year, and after that, job applicants would be required to submit to the checks.

Menlove said the bill would have a one-time cost of about $700,000 in checking existing employees.

According to the bill language, employees and job applicants would be required to consent to a fingerprint background check, and , at the request of the institution, the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification would release the individual’s full record of criminal convictions.

Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-Salt Lake, asked why adjunct instructors would be exempt from the checks.

"That’s a great question," Menlove answered. "That’s in bargaining. This was a concession to get the bill going. Otherwise, the fiscal note would be really huge."

"Everybody tells me, when a student graduates from high school, the student becomes an adult, and we expect them not to have situations like this," Menlove said, speaking of possible deception.

What we are doing is ensuring we have a safe environment for all of our students," she said. "All I’m asking is that we give this a shot."

HB 196 is in its early stages, and still faces additional hearings in the House, and should it pass the House, it will be sent to the Senate.


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