If you want drive your own ice cream truck or sell door-to-door Bibles in Seekonk, you better not have an extensive criminal background. The town meeting on Monday approved an article calling for fingerprint-based criminal background checks on people applying for certain licenses.
Proponents of the measure, including Police Chief Ronald Charron, said it would add an extra layer of protection for Seekonk residents. Opponents said it was an example of government getting too involved in people's lives.
The background checks would cost applicants $100. Those subject to them would be people applying for or in possession of licenses for hawking and peddling, alcohol, dealing second-hand articles, pawning, hackney driving and ice cream truck vending.
"It's an unfortunate fact of our life that there are people out there like Jerry Sandusky who are only there to hurt people," said Michael Brady, a member of the Finance Committee and a former selectman. "And I certainly don't want to be responsible in any way for allowing the next Jerry Sandusky to get access to people."
Also speaking in favor of the measure was Lauren Walsh, chair of the Capital Improvement Committee. She said people who live in the quiet, residential areas of Seekonk are "naïve to the activity that occurs in the south end of town." Walsh said while she was working on Commerce Way, she was met by several peddlers she described as "shady."
"I'm a libertarian, all about freedom and all of that, but you've got some smooth and slick characters," Walsh said.
School Committee member Brian Freitas looked at the situation differently. He said this was a well-intentioned measure, but it allowed government to reach too far into people's lives.
"We cannot bubble-wrap each and every one of our lives for the sake of protection," Freitas said. "Again, this is our freedom and our civil liberties being chipped away in the name of security."
Seekonk resident Jimmy Furtado said he felt bad for people who would have to pay money fort the background checks.
"Someone that drives an ice cream truck for a summer job has got to pay a hundred bucks, I think that's a little extreme," he said.
Several people asked questions about the measure. They were told only the applicant for the license would be subject to the background check, not the employees of a business. Political campaigners and volunteer fundraisers would not be affected because they do not have to apply for licenses since their activities are protected by the First Amendment.
Ten people voted against the measure. Approximately 40 voted in favor of it.
The town has been given the authority to create this bylaw by a state law that went into effect last month.
Similar measures have been approved in other Massachusetts municipalities. Local governments have had the ability to do state background checks, but these bylaws allow them to bring the research to a national level.
Attorney Joyce Frank, a legal consultant for the town, said the state law has not been challenged, but the attorney general has rejected some provisions of bylaws approved by municipalities. The attorney general has 90 days to review Seekonk's version.
Charron called the state law "probably one of the best laws that have been passed by the Mass. legislature to allow the safety of the residents in this community."