A controversial requirement that all Maine school employees submit to fingerprinting and criminal background checks came under attack May 23 when the House voted to repeal the law, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Led by a group of lawmakers who were not in office when the Legislature enacted the law four years ago, the House voted 79-45 to abandon the program.

The bill will now go to the Senate. If it is successful in both houses, it will go to the desk of Gov. Angus King, who is a strong supporter fingerprinting and background checks for all school employees.

Opponents of the requirement said the law needs to be changed because it unfairly places teachers and other school employees under suspicion of being a danger to children.

“There is an ominous wave of incrimination that is being ridden by a group of well-intentioned but misguided zealots,” said Rep. Rosaire Paradis, D-Frenchville, who sponsored the effort. “Please vote for total repeal of the legislation that has brought education to its knees.”

The fingerprinting law has been championed as a way to safeguard children from sexual predators who seek school jobs to gain access to children. Supporters say that 25 Maine teachers have been convicted of molesting children in the last five years, and that some of those cases could have been prevented if the teachers’ backgrounds had been checked before they were hired.

“Teaching is a noble profession, but that does not make every teacher a saint,” said Rep. Christina Baker, D-Bangor. “We can’t stop all abuse, but we must try.”

The fingerprinting law was passed without debate four years ago, but when the program was launched in 1999, people complained and it became the most contentious issue of the last legislative session.