(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo, John Burzichelli and Joseph Lagana to prevent individuals with criminal records from officiating interscholastic athletic events was approved Thursday by an Assembly panel.
“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 is currently no vetting process for school sporting officials. As a parent, that’s worrisome,” said Lagana (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.”
The bill (A-448) 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).
The request for a criminal history records check must be made through the Commissioner of Education. A prospective or current official must submit his name, address, and fingerprints to the NJSIAA which would then forward it to the commissioner. The commissioner would be authorized 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 must examine its own files and arrange for a similar examination 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 incorporates by reference the list of disqualifying crimes and offenses applicable to prospective school employees.
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 advanced by the Assembly Education Committee.