PA Lawmakers Rethink Funding For Child ID Kits After Investigation

The National Child Identification Program has received contracts from multiple states.

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By Jeremy Schwartz | ProPublica

The National Child Identification Program has received contracts from multiple states to supply fingerprinting kits for schoolchildren despite providing no evidence that they have ever been used to find a missing child. Credit: Photo illustration by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune. Source images: Kits from the National Child Identification Program.

Two months after Texas lawmakers stripped millions of dollars from a company that supplies child identification kits, a bill to fund a similar program in Pennsylvania is facing key opposition.

In March, two Pennsylvania senators filed legislation that called for purchasing and distributing child identification kits for all of the state’s first graders. The kits, which would cost the state about $350,000, needed to use “inkless” fingerprinting technology, according to the bill.

Such a provision would provide an advantage to one vendor: the National Child Identification Program, a Waco, Texas, company run by former NFL player Kenny Hansmire, who has a track record of failed businesses and has been disciplined by Connecticut banking regulators.

On May 2, the bill sailed through the Senate Education Committee on a unanimous vote, a key step that was celebrated by the company’s representatives and the legislation’s authors. During a press conference that day, Hansmire turned to a common phrase he uses to promote the kits, calling the bill a “gift of safety” and urging the lawmakers to support the measure.

“We’re asking the state of Pennsylvania to step up, the Senate and the House to step up,” he said.

A week later, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune published an investigation that found no evidence that the kits had ever been used to find a missing child and that the company had used exaggerated statistics as it sought to secure government dollars across the country.

After the investigation was published, Texas lawmakers — who had approved legislation in 2021 that delivered nearly $6 million to the company — zeroed out future funding for the effort.

Pennsylvania lawmakers also began taking a closer look at the company. The bill’s authors removed the requirement that kits be “inkless,” and the measure passed the full Senate last month with a 34-15 vote. Now the bill is awaiting a hearing in the House Education Committee. But the chair of that committee told the news organizations that he has no plans to bring the legislation forward for a vote.

Jason Thompson, a spokesperson for bill sponsors Sens. Scott Martin and Camera Bartolotta, both Republicans, said the removal of the provision that required the kits to be “inkless” would allow a wider pool of potential vendors to seek a state contract. Hansmire has claimed that his company’s inkless technology makes its kits superior.

“Understanding the clear value of providing these kits to young people, Senator Bartolotta and Senator Martin amended their bill to provide additional flexibility to ensure whatever kits are distributed to students meet the needs of Pennsylvania families, law enforcement and taxpayers,” Thompson said.

But that change was not enough to persuade multiple state lawmakers who questioned the use of taxpayer funding to pay for the kits, including Rep. Peter Schweyer, chair of the House Education Committee.

“This just never seemed like it was all that well thought out,” Schweyer, a Democrat, said, adding that addressing school violence and mental health are more urgent priorities. “I’d rather hire a couple more cops or spend money on a couple more psychologists in our most at-risk schools.”

Two Democratic senators offered similar concerns.

Sen. Maria Collett said she was worried that the legislation, as originally proposed, appeared to benefit a single vendor. She noted that several nonprofits in the state already provide child ID kits for free to parents who want them.

“To ask the taxpayers of Pennsylvania to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars, year over year, to a private vendor for a product that we have no data showing the efficacy of is unconscionable, in my opinion,” she said.

Sen. Nikil Saval said the news organizations’ investigation raised concerns among lawmakers.

“A number of us, initially, were supportive of the effort,” Saval said. “Frankly, the reporting gave a number of us pause.”

Beyond questions of the kits’ effectiveness, the news outlets’ investigation found Hansmire had a string of failed businesses, had millions of dollars in outstanding federal tax liens and had previously been barred from some finance-related business in Connecticut by banking regulators because of his role in an alleged scheme to defraud or mislead investors.

Hansmire, who did not respond to emailed questions for this article, has said the kits help law enforcement find missing children and save time during the early stages of a search. But none of the law enforcement agencies contacted by the news outlets could recall the kits having assisted in finding a missing child.

Hansmire also previously said that his legal disputes, including his sanction in Connecticut, had been “properly resolved, closed and are completely unrelated to the National Child ID Program.” He claimed to have “paid debts entirely” but did not provide details.

The Pennsylvania House Education Committee is scheduled to reconvene in late September, following the Legislature’s summer break.

If the committee takes no action, another legislative avenue called a “code bill” could potentially provide funding for the kits, but Schweyer said he isn’t aware of a push for such a move.

“It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of momentum for it here,” he said. Schweyer added: “For now, it’s a dead issue in Pennsylvania.”

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