Manchin bill targets pedophiles working in schools

By Whitney Burdette, Capitol reporter

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., are set to reintroduce legislation aimed at keeping sexual predators out of schools.

The Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predator Act would provide a mechanism for states to check the backgrounds of teachers, bus drivers and other school employees to ensure schools don’t employ sexual predators. Since January 2014, more than 400 school employees nationwide have been arrested for sexual misconduct with children. Manchin and Toomey introduced the bill last year, but it was held up by some Republicans in the Senate.

“Every child should have a safe place in their life,” Manchin said. “More often than not, that’s the school. If a parent, guardian, aunt, uncle can’t expect their child to go to school in a safe environment, then shame on us.”

The legislation sets a standard states can adopt to prevent sexual predators from working in schools. It includes background checks, review of applicants’ backgrounds and stops schools from shipping known predators to work in other states with letters of recommendation, which Toomey called a “terrible practice.” States that don’t adopt the standards will be penalized.

“The state that chooses not to pass legislation that has this strong background check legislation would lose the federal funding for education they get,” Toomey said. “That’s a good incentive.”

Manchin said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, has voiced her support for the legislation, as have other senators from both parties. Toomey said he’s confident the bill will overcome the obstacles it faced last year.

“We think a big majority of the Senate will support this,” Toomey said. “And we’ll insist on getting a vote.”

A cohort of lawmakers last year, led by Sen. Lamar Alexandar, R-Tenn., opposed the legislation citing the 10th amendment. They argued the federal government shouldn’t tell states how to hire teachers and other school personnel or impose other regulations as a matter of principle.

“I disagree with (Alexander’s) conclusion in regard to this bill,” Toomey said. “Nevertheless, we don’t impose the mandate on school districts or the states. Any states that choose to ignore our legislation will forgo a portion of their funding.”

Because states sending known predators to schools across state lines is a problem, Toomey said the only way to stop that is through federal legislation.

“West Virginia can’t pass a law that forbids a school district in Pennsylvania from sending a pedophile … to West Virginia,” he said. “The only solution is federal regulation.”

Manchin said he supports the 10th amendment, but there is a compelling need for this regulation.

“There’s no way we can do this without the cooperation and oversight in federal government so we have no one withheld from that and no one can slip through the cracks and be sent to another state,” Manchin said. “This happens.”

The legislation stems from the case of Jeremy Bell, a Fayette County student who was raped and killed by his principal on a camping trip. The principal had come to West Virginia from Pennsylvania, where he was a known sex offender. The Pennsylvania school district had written letters of recommendation on the principal’s behalf and sent them to the Fayette County Board of Education. He arrived to the state in 1975 and worked in five different schools.

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-5149 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com.

Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.