Is DHHS right to oppose federal biometric requirement in defense of civil liberties?

Battles with the federal government are not foreign for the LePage Administration, which has opposed federal requirements and taken stances against the Obama Administration numerous times in the past. It represents a partisan struggle against Democrats, but also a philosophical struggle between federal power and state rights. Now we have another instance of conflict.

As noted by the Bangor Daily News Editorial Board:

In 2014, when Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block Grant program, the legislation included a number of provisions aimed at improving the quality and safety of the nation’s variety of child care settings. One change was a requirement that child care centers fingerprint all current and prospective employees as part of a comprehensive criminal background check. States have until Sept. 30, 2017, to implement this provision.

But the LePage administration has simply decided it won’t comply. The 205-page Child Care and Development Fund state plan prepared by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and submitted to the feds so Maine can receive its funding contains this statement: “Maine will not be implementing the fingerprint check as part of the background check program but will implement all other components.”

Why?

For many, this may seem like a simple requirement to protect children from predators. Parents can certainly sympathize with the push in a world where predators have an unprecedented technological advantage and crimes are increasing. Why oppose a measure to help combat a background check measure?

DHHS government relations and policy director Nick Adolphsen told Judiciary Committee members explained the reasoning in a written statement:

“[I]n the interest of civil liberties, when the state requires its citizens to submit their biometric information as a condition of employment, the reasons must be extraordinarily compelling. With the existence of a background check requirement already in place, the Department fails to see the state’s compelling need to collect this very personal information.”

The Department of Health and Human Services has a very careful balance it needs to strike when approaching child protection. In a world with child abuse in various forms, it is necessary we take every measure to safeguard innocent young people from danger. With that said, government does have a responsibility to protect all citizens from abuse of any kind, whether it be from threats lurking within the citizen populace or an invasive government. Where do we strike a balance?

Adolphsen’s testimony indicates that DHHS is aware of this need to be protective, but not invasive. Where we draw the line between the former and the latter is obviously up for debate.

The key in this situation is to not politicize the matter, however. Legislators, political leaders, writers, and others who otherwise have some sort of horse in any government battle need to be careful not to turn such a serious matter into a partisan battle. Our children deserve better than to be pawns of a partisan power struggle.

If it is determined not enough is being done and DHHS is playing politics, they must change their tune to meet the needs of protecting our children. If it is determined that DHHS is taking a safe approach determining adequate safeguards already exist, then they must not become more invasive because the federal government wishes it.

Whatever the case is, this should not be a partisan battle. Like with anything else, let’s view this from a position of logic and reason.

Chris Dixon

About Chris Dixon

Chris Dixon is a libertarian-leaning writer. In addition to writing "Undercover Porcupine", he is also the Managing Editor for The Liberty Conservative and writes for Cleat Geeks and Medium.