Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today gave the following statement on the House floor in support of the Child Protection Improvements Act of 2017 (H.R. 695).

Chairman Goodlatte: We have spent a great deal of time this afternoon discussing legislation designed to detect and punish sexual predators.  These bills are all strong, well-crafted, and laudable, and I urge my colleagues to support them.

However, there is another facet to this problem, which is prevention.  This may be the most important action we as Congress can take in the realm of child exploitation laws. We must do all we can to prevent child exploitation from happening in the first place.

That is why, Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to bring H.R. 695, the Child Protection Improvements Act, before the House today. This legislation is extremely important, in that it makes permanent a successful pilot program that allowed youth-serving organizations access to FBI fingerprint database searches.

In 2003, the PROTECT Act created the Child Safety Pilot Program, which ran from 2003 until 2011 and provided access to FBI fingerprint background checks for a variety of child-serving non-profits. The pilot conducted over 105,000 background checks during its existence, and 6.2% of potential volunteers were found to have criminal records of concern.  While that may seem like a small percentage, Mr. Speaker, it works out to over 6,500 individuals.

In addition, over 40% of individuals with criminal records of concern had crimes in states other than where they were applying to volunteer – meaning that only a nationwide check would have flagged these individuals’ criminal records. The criminal offenses detected among some of these checks included convictions for criminal sexual conduct with a child, child endangerment, and manslaughter.  26 percent of these individuals showed a different name on their record than the one they used on their job application.

H.R. 695 allows organizations such as the YMCA to submit fingerprints to a designated entity, which in turn submits them to the FBI for processing. The system protects privacy rights by ensuring that the specifics of a criminal record are never disclosed without explicit consent by the applicant, and it provides opportunity for individuals to correct errors in their records directly with the FBI.

Importantly, the bill does not mandate that youth-serving organizations use this process; it merely makes the process more accessible and more affordable for organizations that wish to use it.

Mr. Speaker, the harsh reality is that there are individuals who will put themselves into positions where they are entrusted with children, so they can then betray that trust in the worst way imaginable.  That is why bills like H.R. 695, and the other bills we have discussed today, are so important.  I thank Mr. Schiff and Mr. Bishop for introducing this bill and I urge my colleagues to support this strong, bipartisan legislation.

For more on the House Judiciary Committee’s work to protect children, click here.