NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A Louisiana lawmaker is hoping to push a bill through the state legislature to expand background checks on adults working with children.
State Representative Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, was inspired to draft the bill after running into two of his constituents -- a father/son duo who opened Falconer’s eyes to a gap in a law which allows potential predators to coach certain sports teams.
Stewart Covey is serious about baseball. The 11-year-old has been playing for seven years now, and his dad, Dan Covey, is a coach. Yet, the two never thought their love of the game would get them involved in politics.
It turns out, that’s exactly what happened when Dan realized travel team players like his son could be in danger.
“Travel leagues gather in tournaments all over the United States. In southern Louisiana, there are about 260,000 travel baseball players,” Dan said.
Last December, Dan was scrolling through social media when he spotted a post from another parent, asking who regulates travel baseball coaches.
“I thought he was just going to complain about his coach,” Dan recalled about his initial reaction.
Instead, the parent confided in Dan. The other dad explained how his son’s coach was a registered sex offender and had allegedly molested that man’s 13-year-old son and other members of the team.
“I was in utter shock because growing up, my coaches were like my dad. They were there to protect me, they were there to teach me, they were there to turn me into an upstanding young man. And to know that somebody of authority that was charged with that duty, can turn around and do something like this to a group of young men was unconscionable to me," Dan said. “Had he gone through a background check prior to coaching, and had to give those credentials to parents, he would’ve never been around them.”
Outraged and concerned for his own son’s safety, Dan went to Stewart to ask whether he had ever been through a similar experience. The boy said he hadn’t, but was sympathetic to the other players’ plight.
“He looked at me in the eye, and he had tears, and he said, ‘Dad, we have to do something about this. It can never happen again.’ And I said, for you, we’re going to work on it,” said Dan. “It made me proud to know he wanted to do something for someone else.”
And while Stewart himself has never been a victim, he was disturbed to learn there were coaches like that out there.
“There is more than 1,000 players in this region, and I’m thinking, ‘How many other players could this have happened to?'” Stewart told us. “I’m thinking, ‘We have to do something about this.’"
That’s when the pair reached out to Falconer.
“I realized right away this was something that needed to be addressed with a state law,” Falconer said.
Falconer examined the current law, and found even though recreational programs at Coquille and through the school system require background checks, travel teams don’t.
“There is this gap where someone could advertise themselves as an expert, and organize one of these travel teams,” Falconer said.
Falconer and Covey got to work, crafting a bill to help ensure sexual predators and pedophiles wouldn’t be able to make it into traveling coaching positions.
“It’s going to be a burden to some people," Dan said of the new bill. “It’s going to cost you 25 or 30 bucks to get a background check. You’re going to have to take the time to go down to the sheriffs department and give a fingerprint. But, in my opinion, to protect our children there’s no burden big enough.”
And for Stewart, nothing should come between the player and the game.
“If something happens to a kid, they’re going to try to quit the sport. It’s not going to be fun anymore and this sport is really fun to play,” Stewart said.
As of Saturday (April 6), Falconer said he already pre-filed House Bill 99. When the session starts Monday, Falconer said the speaker will read the bill into the record and assign it to a committee.
Falconer said he’s expecting a committee to begin reviewing the bill within the next several weeks.