McKeon & Burzichelli Bill to Protect Sensitive Taxpayer Information Approved by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblymen John McKeon and John Burzichelli to help protect sensitive tax information was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

The bill (A-4994) would require certain state and local government agency employees with access to federal tax information to undergo criminal history background checks in order to comply with recent updates to tax information security guidelines for federal, state, and local agencies that have been adopted by the federal Internal Revenue Service under its Safeguards Program.

“Individuals who have been convicted of theft or forgery may not be the best individuals to trust with such sensitive information,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “We have a responsibility to the taxpayers. Requiring a criminal background check for government employees who have access to this information can help prevent having such delicate information fall into the wrong hands.”

“Taxpayers should not have to worry about sensitive information being misused by people who work for the government,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). “This can help ensure that current and prospective employees who handle this information can be trusted with it.”

Under the bill, a state or local government agency that obtains federal tax information is required to have criminal history record background checks conducted for any individual employed by that agency or employed or utilized by a contractor of that agency who has been identified by the agency head as being authorized to have access to federal tax information. The bill requires a follow-up criminal history record background check to similarly be conducted at least once every ten years for those same individuals as a condition of having continued access to federal tax information.

The bill requires each individual that has been determined to require a criminal history record background check to submit to the agency head or the jurisdictional state agency head (in the case of a local government agency) that individual’s name, address, and fingerprints taken by a state or municipal law enforcement agency or by a private entity under contract with the state. The bill requires these fingerprints, and the written consent to the check, to be submitted to the Superintendent of State Police for a criminal history record background check, and directs the superintendent to compare the fingerprints with fingerprints on file with the Bureau of Identification in the Division of State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The bill permits a state or local government agency to authorize an individual employed by that agency or employed or utilized by a contractor of that agency to have access to federal tax information if it has been determined that the individual’s criminal history record background check does not reveal a record of conviction of any of the following crimes or offenses: (1) in New Jersey, any crime or disorderly persons offense: (a) involving theft as set forth in chapter 20 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes; or (b) involving forgery or fraudulent practices as set forth in chapter 21 of Title 2C of the New Jersey Statutes; or (2) in any other state or jurisdiction, of conduct which, if committed in New Jersey, would constitute any of the crimes or disorderly persons offenses described above. The bill requires an individual to be disqualified from having access to federal tax information if that individual’s criminal history background check reveals a record of conviction of any of those crimes or offenses, unless the individual has affirmatively demonstrated to the agency clear and convincing evidence of the individual’s rehabilitation.

The bill provides that if a prospective employee or individual employed or utilized by a contractor refuses to consent to the securing of a criminal history record background check, the state or local government agency is prohibited from employing or utilizing that person in a position for which access to federal tax information is required. If a current employee of a state or local government agency refuses to consent to the check, the employing agency shall terminate that employee’s access to federal tax information and may remove that employee from any position requiring such access, but shall make a reasonable effort to retain that individual as an employee in another position that does not require access to federal tax information and for which the employee is qualified.

The bill directs the Division of State Police to notify the state agency or the jurisdictional state agency (in the case of a local government agency) if an individual who was the subject of a criminal history record background check is convicted of a crime or offense in this state after the date that the check was performed. Upon receipt of such notification, the agency head or the jurisdictional state agency head is required to make a determination regarding the individual’s qualification to access federal tax information.

Lastly, the bill requires a state or local government agency whose employees’ job duties require access to federal tax information to establish a policy for background investigations applicable to current and prospective employees and individuals employed or utilized by contractors.

The bill would take effect immediately upon enactment.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.