Montana shines light on shady dealings

Montana is making it tougher for state felons to hide their criminal backgrounds.

By the end of the month, the state will add a criminal records history system to its World Wide Web site so employers in public schools, welfare offices, nursing homes and similar lines of work can check for rap sheets on any prospective employees.

State law requires social services organizations to check the criminal history of employees for certain positions. At present, employers must submit a request in writing for background checks, and it can take several days to get a response. The criminal records history system will provide information instantaneously.

Initially, the Web site, developed in conjunction with Montana's Department of Justice, will list only those felons convicted in Montana, although state officials expect eventually to link their system to a national database.

Employers will need to request passwords to access the information.

"It is the first step in making sure that people who have criminal records cannot get jobs in [sensitive] areas," said Mike Billings, administrator of operations and technology in Montana's Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The system will be part of the state's Virtual Human Services Pavilion (vhsp.dphhs.state.mt.us), a Web portal that provides links to government agencies, including the PHHS, the departments of Labor Industry, Justice and Commerce.

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