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Politics & Government

Rep. Costa Supports Bill To Waive Background Check Fee For Emergency Services Personnel

Area representatives are supporting a bill that would waive background check fees for paid and volunteer firefighters and emergency response personnel.  

The legislation comes after 23 pieces of legislation were enacted in 2014 changing how Pennsylvania responds to child abuse including reporting, investigation, assessment and judicial handling. The legislation requires anyone that comes in contact with children in a volunteer or paid position to have three background checks – state criminal background, child abuse clearance and FBI criminal background – which together is almost $50.

House Bill 1081 sponsored by Rep. Tina Davis of Bucks County, would amend titles 18 – crimes and offenses – and 23 – domestic relations – of the Pennsylvania consolidated statutes to exempt current and prospective volunteer and paid firefighters and EMS agencies for the cost of the clearances.

Rep. Dom Costa of Allegheny County, a sponsor of the bill, said at a news conference at Evergreen Volunteer Fire Department that he supports reducing the financial burden of the fees.

“As well-needed as the bill is, these folks put their lives on the line every day for us, they provide billions, and that’s with a "b," billions of dollars of relief to this commonwealth for the services they provide,” he said.

Costa said the bill’s sponsors are trying to generate support for the legislation while they figure out details of where additional money or support will come from.

“A lot of the costs with backgrounds, especially within the state are hidden costs. We have troopers working right now to do background checks already. So it would just be putting more work on them. And I’m sure for something like this, they’d be more than happy to help us out on this,” he said.

Greg Porter, Etna Volunteer Fire Department Chief, stressed that members of area volunteer fire and EMT crews are in support of additional background checks and child protection services, but the cost the volunteers have to pay is a struggle.

“We continue to see a reduction in volunteerism, in the EMS side an increased cost of doing business, and these additional fees and logistics of management would cause us some hardship,” he said.

Costa said waiving the fee for fire and EMT volunteers is only the first step. He wants to take the burden off more volunteers who work with children.

“Now this is going to go further from here because this is the start – the firefighters and EMS," he said. "But we have many volunteers; schools, cafeterias things like that. If you want to go on a field trip with your child, you need a background check. That’s not fair."

The bill gained bipartisan support and was referred to the Judiciary committee in April.