(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo, John Burzichelli, Nicholas Chiaravalloti, Benjie Wimberly and Joann Downey to prevent individuals with criminal records from officiating interscholastic athletic events was advanced by the General Assembly Monday by a vote of 75-0-0.
“We must be diligent about who we put in positions of authority, and who we bring around our children,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “In youth sports many different positions are already required to undergo background checks. Our referees and officials who have close contact with children shouldn’t be an exception. This bill is about protecting our kids and our families.”
“This screening process will help ensure that the people we are charging with the well-being of our students can be trusted,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “School employees must undergo criminal background checks. The same should apply to these officials.”
“There should be no exemptions when it comes to the safety of our students,” said Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “A criminal background check can help us differentiate the good from the problematic, so we are not unwittingly jeopardizing the safety of our students.”
“There is currently no vetting process for school sporting officials. As a parent, that’s worrisome,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “These individuals may not interact with students on a daily basis, but they are still working with students. They should have to prove not just their expertise, but that they are responsible and suitable to work with young people.”
“We have to be more mindful about who we allow around our children,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “Requiring a criminal background check for these officials can help ensure that we are not blindly trusting our students with individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes.”
The bill (A-533) would require that a criminal history records check be conducted on any person who serves as an official for an interscholastic athletics meet, game, or tournament sanctioned by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA).
Under the bill, the NJSIAA would request the check through the Commissioner of Education. A prospective or current official would submit his name, address, and fingerprints to the NJSIAA which would then forward them to the commissioner. The bill would authorize the commissioner to exchange fingerprint data with and receive criminal history record information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Bureau of Identification in the Division of State Police.
In conducting the check, the State Bureau of Identification would examine its own files and would arrange for a similar review by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Identification Division. A prospective or current official would be disqualified from serving as an official for any interscholastic athletic events sanctioned by the NJSIAA if the person’s criminal history record information reveals a record of conviction for a disqualifying crime or offense. The bill would incorporate by reference the list of disqualifying crimes and offenses applicable to prospective school employees.
Under the bill, disqualifying crimes and offenses include, but are not limited to: convictions for first or second degree crimes; robbery; aggravated assault; kidnapping; arson; crime of the fourth degree involving a victim who is a minor; manslaughter and murder.
Following qualification to serve as an official, the State Bureau of Identification would immediately forward to the commissioner any information which the bureau receives on a charge pending against the official. If the charge is for a disqualifying crime or offense, the commissioner will notify the NJSIAA, and the association will take appropriate action. If the pending charge results in conviction, the person will be disqualified from continuing to serve as an official.
The bill was initially advanced by the Assembly Education Committee on June 18 and now awaits further action in the Senate.