Originally created 03/03/98

S.C.'s criminal background check one of costliest in country



COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina is one of the most expensive places in the nation to run a criminal background check, which presents problems for businesses and groups that like to check out employees who work with children.

According to a survey by a Columbia newspaper, South Carolina, Alabama and Delaware charge $25 to run a computer check of all instate convictions. South Carolina also reports arrests made in the past year.

California was the most expensive state, but its $32 fee includes a fingerprint check.

The newspaper reported that 36 states charge $15 or less for background checks, and 21 of those charge less than $10. Five states do not offer background checks for the public.

Most local recreation commissions in South Carolina want the background checks for those who work with children, "but they just can't afford it," said John Winfield, recreation superintendent for the Irmo-Chapin Recreation Commission. "The more reasonable the price, the sooner we'll be able to do it."

State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart said the Legislature increased the fee from $15 to $25 several years ago "because they had no new money to appropriate. ... This is the way the Legislature chose to fund SLED at the time."

Stewart said SLED is trying to lower the cost of the background checks, which are required by law for certain positions that include child-care workers.

He said the agency is working to determine if the information can be copied from SLED's computers to another computer system connected to the Internet. People could conduct their own searches for a smaller fee, but security is a major concern.

SLED averages about 120,000 record checks a year, Stewart said.

A new system in South Carolina would take legislative action.

"We're going to give them a year to try some of their ideas," said state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Columbia.

If SLED's plans do not show promise, Quinn said lawmakers would have to find money to make the checks less expensive.

State officials also want to make checks more useful by including information from other states. The federal government does not allow checks of FBI records, which are nationwide, unless it is required by law, such as for teachers or gun purchasers.

"We feel strongly that it would be much better if you could get a national check for employment," Stewart said.

A bill, which could come up Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, would allow an employer to require workers or job applicants to furnish their own background check at their own expense.