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Proposed Fla. law seeks volunteer coach background checks

Oct 14, 1:28 PM EDT
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) 


Oct 14, 1:28 PM EDT

 Proposed Fla. law seeks volunteer coach background checks

 TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Volunteer coaches participating in youth athletic leagues would be required to have their backgrounds screened under a bill proposed for next spring’s legislative session.

 State Sen. Jeremy Ring is sponsoring a bill requiring fingerprints of sports coaches to be checked by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Within five days of being placed with a team, a coach would have to submit background information and a set of fingerprints to the "sanctioning authority" of a league, which would forward them to the FDLE.

 "We’ve got a serious loophole that has to be closed, a very serious problem that the Legislature has to address," said Ring, D-Margate. "We don’t do background checks with people who work with our children every day. It’s unconscionable."

 Ring said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, will co-sponsor the bill in the house during the regular session of the Legislature next spring.

 The bill would also require sponsoring organizations to annually certify that all of their coaches have been screened, or are in the process of being screened. It would be a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, for a coach to falsify his background information.

 Ring sponsored the same bill last year, but it died in committees without a hearing.

 Sharon Berrian of the Florida League of Cities said the cost might cause problems for financially strapped cities and force them to cut back on sports and recreation programs.

 The FDLE estimates that it would run about 2,500 more fingerprint checks each year, at a cost of $15.25 per volunteer, but that’s on top of other screening costs, like verifying Social Security Numbers, tracking past addresses and other data.

 Pat Plocek, recreation director for Leon County, estimated that adding fingerprints to the background check would quadruple the cost to about $80 per person.

 "It probably reduces the number of people willing to volunteer," Plocek said. "I’m not sure all volunteers want their fingerprints on file, for perfectly innocent reasons of privacy."