Background Checks for Youth Leagues Defeated

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A bill to require background checks for volunteers and employees of youth sports clubs failed to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Opponents said the measure had too many gaps in it. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

In Colorado, roughly 6 million children play in youth sports clubs, ranging from soccer and baseball to swimming and basketball.  Supporters say these sports clubs attract sexual predators because of lax standards.

Senate Bill 48 [.pdf] would have required any employee or volunteer who spends more than five days each month with the children to have a background check.

“Offenders who were in the Catholic Church and in the Boy Scouts, those offenders are leaving those programs and they’re coming to youth sports,” said Michelle Peterson, a child abuse investigator.  “There’s absolutely no doubt, and I see that myself.  The Catholic Church, Boy Scouts, they’ve had these incidents, even Penn State.  They recognize their gaping holes, their lack of policies, their lack of background checks, so they implemented all this change.”

Peterson was one of nearly a dozen witnesses to testify in favor of the bill.  “No one’s requiring anything of these programs and we have 44 million kids across this country paying in these sports.”

Senator Kevin Lundberg [R-Berthoud] and other GOP members of the Judiciary Committee say the state should mandate the background checks, and that the measure would give parents a false sense of security.

“Are background checks really effective?” asked Lundberg.  “Or are they just spot-checking the possibility and we end up with 20% possibility that we caught something?”

Jeff Rugel is with a soccer club in Westminster.  He also says the underlying assumptions in the bill are wrong.  “I do not want to tolerate the concept that youth sports is a cesspool of bad people who are out to hurt your kids.  That’s not what’s going on.”

Currently, USA Hockey requires background checks for volunteers and coaches at its affiliate clubs.  Colorado’s amateur hockey association says they’ve also included a lot of educational outreach around sexual abuse.  For most other sports, it’s up to individual clubs. 

The measure ultimately failed on a party line 3-2 vote.