A strongly worded bill requiring criminal background checks of teachers, child-care employes and others who work with minors, including members of the clergy, was overwhelmingly approved yesterday by the Maryland Senate.
Proposed by a gubernatorial task force on child abuse, the legislation would establish the most far-reaching and comprehensive employe screening requirements in the country, said lawmakers who served on the governor's panel.
Saying the measure "definitely goes too far," the head of a statewide teachers organization described the proposed law as "pernicious," saying it would subject some teachers and other employes to unfair dismissal.
"What used to be called embracive encouragement is now called fondling," said Janice Piccinini, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association.
"I do believe people are not being sensitive to the growing number of charges being brought against teachers just because of heightened awareness," she said.
The bill, which passed 46 to 0 without debate, would prohibit persons convicted of any of a number of crimes -- including child abuse, certain sexual offenses and assault and battery resulting in injury to someone under 15 -- from working with children.
"The basic concern is that pedophiles are attracted to places where there are children. They're in the schools, the camps . . . and those are the individuals we try to cover in this bill," said Sen. Gerald Winegrad (D-Anne Arundel).
Employes of recreation centers, day care facilities, camps and both public and private schools would be included under the law.
The bill's only weakness, said Sen. Thomas Yeager (D-Howard), is that the screening requirement would apply only to people hired after Sept. 30 this year. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.