Protecting Our Youth

(April 26) – A bill by Rep. Jonathan Singer that would inform parents if their children’s coaches have not gone through background checks passed the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee on an 8-5 vote. Only one Republican member voted in favor of the bill.

HB16-1443 requires a youth organization to notify parents of their background check policies for coaches and volunteers. It does not require the organizations to run background checks, but allows parents to make informed decisions. A bill to require background checks failed in the Republican controlled Senate last year.

“This bill takes a step to address whether or not the coaches we trust our kids with are actually predators,” said Rep. Singer. “Child molesters and sex abusers don’t have stamps on their foreheads. The strongest measure to protect our kids is a simple background check and this bill takes a free-market approach to let parents make informed decisions.”

Rep. Singer, D-Longmont, testified that an estimated 15,000 convicted sex offenders currently coach kids in out-of-school sports, according to Kansas State University. Background checks are required for coaches hired by schools.

“Our number one priority has always been about the safety of our participants,” testified Jim Hiner, President and CEO, YMCA of Metropolitan Denver, who spoke in favor of the bill.

“We adopted doing background checks for youth coaches in 2003 in Denver and have been doing so ever since,” he continued. Each year, his organization runs background checks on about 675 applications and rejects an average of eight.

One in five girls and one in 20 boys are a victim of child sexual abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children’s Bureau. Michelle Petersen, an expert in child sexual abuse investigations, testified that sexual predators often seek out youth organizations that don’t run background checks and are easy to work or volunteer for.

Parents often feel safe to assume that their child’s organization runs background checks on coaches, but when that is not the case, it is ultimately the child who pays the price.

The bill proceeds to the House floor for second reading. Reps. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton; Justin Everett, R-Littleon; Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs; Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain; and Tim Leonard, R-Evergreen, voted against the bill.

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