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New bill would require background checks for youth sports coaches

State Rep. Greg Howard, R-Stonington, a police detective who runs the Stonington youth football organization, has introduced a bill in the current General Assembly session that would require all people involved in youth sports to undergo criminal background checks.

Currently state law only requires public schools to conduct such checks, though it gives private schools the option to require them. And while some youth sports organizations, such as Little League, annually do a nationwide background check and search of the National Sex Offender Registry, other youth sports leagues, organizations, camps, programs and travel teams do not.

Howard's bill would not just require youth coaches to undergo checks but trainers and instructors, as well. The bill — HB-5028: An Act Requiring Background Checks for Youth Sports Coaches, Trainers and Instructors — has been referred to the Children's Committee for screening and then possible drafting of language and a public hearing. 

"If you have access to kids, you're going to have to undergo a background check," Howard said Thursday about the intent of his bill.  

"Volunteer sports coaches hold positions which place them in direct contact with children. A background check or screening is a common-sense approach in preventing possible abuse of minors," he added in the written announcement of the bill. "Let's make sure we identify people with a history of crimes or offenses involving minors or other vulnerable persons never get access to children."

Howard said the pushback he expects will come over the cost of conducting the checks.

But he said Stonington Youth Football conducts background checks of all its approximately 40 coaches without charging players any fee to be on a team. To offset all the costs, the league conducts extensive fundraising. He said the databases exist for the checks and one service that does the checks charges about $13 a person. 

"I'm doing it. It's not that costly and it's worth every penny," he said. "It's not cost prohibitive."  

Howard said some of his legislative colleagues have expressed support for the bill, which he said was raised last year but not adopted. The COVID-19 pandemic, combined with the normally short session in even-numbered years, meant the bill never got out of a committee and to a vote. 

j.wojtas@theday.com

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