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Crackdown on sexual predators at amusement parks urged

State Rep. Silvana Tabares (D-21st) is working to pass legislation requiring amusement parks to maintain strict regulations on hiring policies to better protect children from convicted sexual offenders.

ÒRight now, a loophole exists in state law allowing convicted sexual predators to work at amusement parks, fairs and carnivals,” Tabares said. ÒWe need to close that loophole and reinforce our laws to keep sexual offenders away from our children, especially in places where so many children and families are present in large crowds.”

Currently, convicted sex offenders are prohibited from working as ride operators at amusement parks and carnivals, and amusement park and carnival owners are required to perform background checks to ensure no employee operating a ride has been convicted of a sex crime.

Tabares is backing legislation to strengthen the law to make sure that background checks are performed on any carnival workers or volunteers, regardless of their job duties at the festivals, to ensure no one with a sex crime conviction is hired. Persons required to register as a child sex offender under the Sex Offender Registration Act will be prohibited from knowingly performing tasks and being associated or employed with any amusement park, carnival or fair.

The legislation stems from a fatal incident in downstate DeWitt County in 2013 in which two carnival workers, working at a small-town festival in the county, were charged following the murder of a 21-year-old man.

One of the workers reportedly pled guilty to felony sexual assault of a child in 2011, but he was not listed as a ride operator at the festival, so no background check was performed.

ÒThis legislation can help provide greater safety to our families by making sure dangerous criminals are not allowed to work at carnivals and fairs in any capacity,” Tabares said.

Amusement companies would also face tougher penalties for violating the mandatory records requirements. A first-time violation could result in a fine of up to $10,000, and subsequent fines for park owners could range from up to $25,000 for a second offense and as much as $50,000 for additional offenses.

House Bill 400 is awaiting a hearing in the House Business and Occupational Licenses Committee.

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