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California lawmaker wants firefighters to undergo background screenings

Apr 15, 2011 Matt Roesly

One of the most important issues during the process of hiring public employees is conducting a proper background screening to ensure that citizens are not put at risk. When people are hired to serve the public, they must go through a thorough vetting process to make sure they do not have a consistent pattern of illegal behavior. Many towns and cities have been pushing for these checks to prevent criminals from being given improper authority to carry out jobs and collect a salary on the taxpayer's dime. One of the latest people to call for more background screenings is California State Assemblyman Kevin Jefferies, a Republican from Lake Elsinore. Jefferies recently introduced a bill that would force anyone applying for a full-time job with the California Department of Forestry and Fire to go through background checks, Lake Elsinore-Wildomar Patch reports. As it stands now, the department only forces firefighters who also serve as EMTs, law enforcement officers and paramedics to go through the process. This isn't the first time that Jefferies has introduced a bill for added screenings, but the previous attempt was defeated along party lines. And while he says that convicted felons wouldn't necessarily be prevented from getting a job, it would be important to know what their prior convictions had been for. "Once again, the argument against the bill was that convicted felons need to be able to obtain employment in the fire service," he said in an email to the news service. "My rebuttal was basically, sure, some rehabilitated felons could be considered, but shouldn't we know exactly what type of crime they committed before we blindly hire them? Shouldn't we know if they are a convicted arsonist?" But according to Julie Hutchinson, a spokeswoman for Cal Fire, the money for the background screenings simply isn't there. She told the source that the department wouldn't be able to provide "vital services" because of budget constraints. While many communities are struggling with tight financial situations, the results of not doing a proper background screening can have extremely harmful ramifications. In Florida, all public staff members must have their fingerprints submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which it keeps on record and tests every year, at a high cost to local districts.