Massachusetts May Require Steeper Driver Background Checks

LCT Staff
Posted on June 11, 2008

BOSTON — Limousine companies would be required to check drivers' criminal records, under legislation filed by Rep. William Lantigua, D-Lawrence, after a chauffeur driving teens to the Haverhill High School prom was found to be a registered sex offender operating with a suspended license. "If a person is going to be transporting people, especially at a school activity, the company should have an idea of the background," Lantigua said. "Someone with a criminal record or a sex offender or with a significant felony should not be allowed to drive youngsters back and forth."

On May 30, a group of teens were driven to the Haverhill High School prom by Troy Barrett, 29, of Lee, N.H. His employer, Ambassador Travel of Salisbury, did not know Barrett was a convicted sex offender in New Hampshire. He was convicted of aggravated felonious sexual assault on someone under 13. Barrett shuttled the teens while driving with a suspended license.

Barrett was fired, and the company is checking to ensure its other drivers have valid licenses.

Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, also supports requiring limo employers to request Criminal Offender Record Information, called CORI checks, from the state.

"What happened is alarming on many levels," Dempsey said. "The most alarming is that they had teenage girls in a limo with a sex offender."

Before signing onto Lantigua's bill or filing his own legislation, Dempsey has asked lawyers with Registry of Motor Vehicle officials to see if the Legislature can require the background checks.

Dempsey also is meeting with representatives of the New England Livery Association in Haverhill tomorrow to get their thoughts on state legislation. The New England Livery Association, which represents limousine companies, backs mandating background checks on drivers.

"If you hire a gentleman and he's driving a client, you need to know the background of that individual," said Michael Pazzaneze, the association president.

Pazzaneze said his association already suggests employers check into their drivers' background. It's good sense, he said.

"You put a driver in a one-on-one situation with a client — you need to know the background before you hire them," Pazzaneze said. "We pick people up. We know their habits, when they're coming back (from a trip). If you hire that individual, you're leaving yourself open to liability." Access to CORI checks has been a hot-button issue in Massachusetts. Civil libertarians have raised questions about whether CORI can be misused or deny felons who've completed their sentences from getting a second chance.

Gov. Deval Patrick earlier this year filed sweeping legislation that provided some protections to people out of prison and looking for work but also barred sex offenders' histories from ever being sealed from public view.

Faran Fajana, an attorney with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said Lantigua's effort is unnecessary because employers can already ask the state to approve their access to CORI reports for a prospective hire.

The law does require certain employers, such as nursing homes, that deal with vulnerable people to do background checks.

Fajana worries that requiring limo companies to do CORI checks would open the door for a host of other businesses, including trucking companies and restaurants, that come into contact with teenagers. That, she said, would make it unfairly difficult for felons who have served their time to get work.

Lantigua said that he believes people deserve second chances, but that it's important to protect children. "I do believe in people redeeming themselves and giving a second opportunity," Lantigua said. "At the same token, we need to protect society."

Source: Newbury Port News

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