Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Background check update passes Senate

A bill that amends state law to match federal requirements for background checks performed by two New Mexico agencies that work directly with children, passed the Senate by a 41-0 vote Monday. It now heads to the House.

Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City), the sponsor of Senate Bill 152, called it a “technical fix,” requested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to update the state laws to continue performing background checks on behalf of the Children, Youth and Families and New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department.

Under the bill, employees and volunteers with the early childhood department, which oversees preschools and daycares, will receive state and federal background checks. 

For the Children, Youth and Families Department, the bill would provide updated definitions and specify who the agency must background.

This includes potential foster or adoptive parents, and additional adults living in those households. 

It would also include background checks for operators, employees, student interns and volunteer facilities that have “primary custody of children for 20 hours per week.” 

Those explicitly offer definitions which include:

  • Behavior management development programs
  • Case management
  • Child placement agencies
  • Community services
  • Shelters
  • Juvenile detention and juvenile correction facilities 
  • Treatment facilities including: day treatment, group homes, intensive outpatient programming, treatment foster care and residential treatment facilities. 

Both agencies are currently performing criminal background checks through the FBI under a grace period which federal officials say expires in September 2024.

“Last summer, the FBI determined that the CYFD statute was no longer sufficient to comply with their requirements because the definitions were too vague,” Hemphill said on the floor.

After taking questions from Republican senators, Hemphill said that there are no additional changes to background check requirements. A Fiscal Impact Report on Hemphill’s bill showed there will be no increases in costs to the agencies.

Without enacting the bill, CYFD would be “unable to conduct background checks on individuals providing services to our most vulnerable population,” the Fiscal Impact Report said.

The bill has an emergency clause, meaning it would go into law immediately if signed by the governor.

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