New Legislation Says New Jersey’s Gov’t Employees Should Be Honest

A new law in New Jersey (A-4994) that requires certain state and local government agency employees with access to federal tax information to undergo criminal history background checks was unanimously approved by both houses of the state’s legislature and signed into law July 24, 2017. The measure enables New Jersey to comply with recent updates to tax information security guidelines for federal, state and local agencies adopted by the Internal Revenue Service under its Safeguards Program, aimed at protecting the confidentiality of tax return information.

The fact that this legislation was deemed necessary says a lot  about the record of New Jersey officials over the years — many of whom have been convicted and sent to prison. To add insult to injury, a front page article in the Courier Post in August 2016 noted that a former New Jersey official was still receiving his pension while in prison while others, who had served their sentences, were still receiving their pensions paid by the citizens of New Jersey, which amounted to more than $1 million a year.

The legislation, sponsored by Assembly Democrats John McKeon, John Burzichelli, Troy Singleton and Marlene Caride, agreed that individuals who have been convicted of theft or forgery may not be the best individuals to trust with such sensitive information and taxpayers should not have to worry about sensitive information being misused by people who work for the government.

Under the new law, a state or local government agency that obtains federal tax information must have criminal history record background checks conducted for any individual employed by that agency or employed or utilized by a contractor of that agency who is authorized to have access to federal tax information. The law requires a follow-up criminal history record background check to be conducted at least once every ten years.

Each individual with access to federal tax information must submit to the agency head his or her name, address and fingerprints taken by a state or municipal law enforcement agency or by a private entity under contract with the state. The fingerprints and written consent to the check then will be submitted to the state police for a criminal history record background check, and the superintendent of the state police will compare the fingerprints with those on file with the Bureau of Identification in the Division of State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

An individual may have access to federal tax information if his or her background check does not reveal a record of conviction of any crime or disorderly persons offense involving theft, forgery or fraudulent practices. The individual would be disqualified from having access to federal tax information if his or her background check reveals a record of conviction of any of those crimes or offenses, unless the individual has affirmatively demonstrated to the agency clear and convincing evidence of rehabilitation.

If a prospective employee refuses to consent to a background check, the state or local government agency is prohibited from employing or utilizing that person in a position for which access to federal tax information is required. If a current employee refuses to consent to the check, the employing agency shall terminate his or her access to federal tax information and may remove him or her from any position requiring such access, but shall make a reasonable effort to retain the employee in another position that does not require access to federal tax information.

The new law directs the state police to notify the agency if an individual who was the subject of a background check is convicted of a crime or offense in New Jersey after the date that the check was performed. Upon receipt of such notification, the agency head would make a determination regarding the individual’s qualification to access federal tax information.