Safety Trumps Confidentiality

November 30, 2012, Department, by Sue Omanson, Sameera Luthman

Each summer, thousands of children participate in recreation at the Naperville (Illinois) Park District, and the district hires approximately 200 teens to staff many of these programs. As a major employer of youth in Naperville, the district’s practice of engaging teens is a win-win for youth and recreation.

In fall 2009, with the idea of ensuring the safety of children in its programs, Naperville Park District Commissioner Ron Ory voiced his concern that park districts do not receive information from criminal background checks of minors. He observed that the district could be unknowingly hiring a staff member who has abused other children. At the time, only schools had access to information concerning juvenile offenders. Illinois law allows police to share with Naperville schools confidential information concerning a minor’s arrest or conviction for unlawful use of a weapon, controlled substance violations, forcible felonies, and other serious offenses. Naperville Park District legal counsel Derke Price advised that legislation would be needed to give park districts this same access to information.

The district’s Legislative Committee identified juvenile background information legislation as one of its top priorities for 2010, hoping for a new law by year’s end. This goal seemed within reach, even though only a small percentage of bills succeed in the General Assembly each year.

By February 2010, Representative Michael Connelly had introduced HB 5146 to address the need for the legislation; it was assigned to the Juvenile Justice Reform Committee. Naperville Park District Commissioner Suzanne Hart and Attorney Price testified at the committee hearing in Springfield, but all were disappointed to see the bill fail to pass out of committee. Opponents challenged the legislation as a threat to the policies and privacy of the juvenile justice system.

Throughout the remaining months of 2010, Commissioner Hart continued to talk with legislators concerning the issues and gradually won their support. As a result of the concerns expressed in those conversations, Attorney Price tailored the scope of the bill to include only certain adjudications of delinquency and added safeguards concerning the handling of that information.

By January 2011, Senator A.J. Wilhelmi (D) and Representative Darlene Senger (R) sponsored parallel bills with the new scope and safeguards. SB 2286 (Wilhelmi) passed the Senate 55-1 on April 15 and HB 3129 (Senger) passed the House 86-22 on April 14. With victory in sight, the next step was to reconcile the bills for approval by the opposite chamber. The Legislative Committee learned, however, that due to an arcane parliamentary rule, neither bill reached the opposite chamber in time for final passage.

Not willing to give up so close to success, commissioners Gerry Heide and Mike Reilly continued to speak with legislators about the issue. In February 2012, Sen. Wilhelmi, who planned to leave the Senate in March, enlisted Sen. John Mulroe (D) to sponsor the same bill with a new number (SB 3809); SB 3809 passed both houses unanimously and was signed into law on June 22, 2012.

Keys to success included maintaining good relationships with legislators, focusing on the one issue, learning from the opposition, and seeking bipartisan support. Park district commissioners spoke with legislators, as elected official to elected official, while staff and legal counsel supported the effort through analysis, research, and partnership with IAPD.

Sue Omanson is Community Development Manager for Naperville Park District.
Sameera Luthman is Director of Marketing and Communications for Naperville Park District.