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Minn. House supports background checks for school coaches

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Minnesota State Capitol
Minnesota State Capitol
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

Coaches and leaders of other school activities would be in for some extra scrutiny under a House bill that aims to protect children from sexual exploitation.

      The Minnesota House voted 118-11 for a plan to make school districts run criminal background checks on coaches and those who lead other extracurricular activities.

      Rep. Karla Bigham said news reports about coaches having inappropriate sexual contact with students prompted her proposal.

      "If this prevents one incident, then this law has been successful," said Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove.

      Objections came from Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, who said the requirement would be another burden for strapped school districts and could make it harder to recruit coaches.

      Bigham's bill differs from a Senate version, so negotiators will be named to work out a compromise.

      The Senate version would require the checks for volunteers who coach or lead other activities at least weekly. Bigham said her bill would not apply to volunteers such as parents and senior citizens who help out with school activities.

      Meanwhile, the Senate gave preliminary approval to a separate bill requiring schools to contact the Board of Teaching before hiring a teacher. The goal is to determine if any disciplinary action is on file against the teacher involving inappropriate sexual conduct with a student.

      Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, cited a nationwide Associated Press investigation that found some teachers who had their licenses suspended for inappropriate behavior involving children were later hired by other districts that didn't know of their pasts.