- By KRISTEN WYATT Associated Press
- First Posted: January 28, 2015 - 8:27 pm
- Last Updated: January 28, 2015 - 8:33 pm
DENVER — An ambitious plan to make Colorado the first state to extend background-check requirements to employees and even volunteers in youth sports organizations failed in its first hearing Wednesday, when GOP senators called the measure incomplete and inadequate to prevent sex abuse.
The party-line 3-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee came after hours of emotional testimony from coaches, parents and sex abuse survivors about the lack of criminal background checks in sports clubs outside schools.
"Predators use sports organizations to access vulnerable children," said Karen Moldovan of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
But ruling Republicans sided with background-check providers who testified that the proposal called only for skimpy checks and that predators would slip through.
"There's too many gaps in this bill," said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.
The bill would have prevented convicted sex offenders from working directly with underage athletes, or from volunteering on overnight trips with sports clubs outside schools. Many private clubs already require background checks, but there is no legal requirement.
Bill supporters argued that hairdressers and child care workers need criminal background checks, but not people going on overnight trips with young athletes.
"Youth sports are growing so fast in Colorado, and that's great. But we need to make sure our kids are protected," said Michelle Peterson, a Boulder County consultant.
Peterson got involved in advocacy for young athletes after a boy on her son's amateur hockey team lodged abuse allegations against a coach. Peterson says she was surprised that coaches working for school-based sports leagues face background checks, but not people who work for private leagues.
"It's a gaping hole," Peterson said.
The sponsor of the failed bill, Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, conceded that not all sex offenders would be stopped from volunteering or working in youth sports. But he added, "To me, doing nothing was not an option."
Heath sponsored a related law that passed two years ago, to extend mandatory child-abuse reporting requirements to youth-sports volunteers.