More child abuse bills in final stretch (The Times-Tribune)

“Good developments but survivors’ access to justice remains difficult in PA” – Professor Marci A. Hamilton

Published: April 5, 2014

HARRISBURG – The legislative response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal continues to unfold with two additional bills strengthening the state’s child protection system awaiting Gov. Tom Corbett’s signing.

One measure would require professionals who care for or supervise children to have ongoing training in how to identify child abuse and report it.

This training bill will make it less likely that abuse of a child goes unnoticed and unreported, sponsors said.

“Mandated reporters are so critical in uncovering a crime that, while pervasive, is kept in the dark while innocent children suffer in silence,” said Rep. Mauree Gingrich, R-101, Cleona, the bill sponsor. “My legislation will help to ensure that those whose jobs require them to interact regularly with children are trained to recognize the signs of child abuse and know how to report it.”

The other bill would establish a state database containing reports of child abuse and children in need of protective services that law enforcement and social agencies can access. Mr. Corbett plans to sign this bill Monday.

Lawmakers are wrapping up work on another key bill that specifies which individuals in a profession or line of work must report suspected child abuse.

This bill faces final votes next week, said Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, North Wales, who’s worked on the issue.

Among those required to report under the bill are health care providers, school administrators and employees, social services workers and individuals, paid or volunteer, who are directly responsible for a child such as through the activities of a youth organization.

Lawmakers have reached a compromise to include attorneys representing an institution that cares for children as mandatory reporters subject to the state court rules governing attorney conduct, said Mr. Stephens.

Another bill awaiting final action would upgrade penalties for mandated reporters who fail to report.

The effort to revamp state laws protecting children stems from the arrest in November 2011 of Mr. Sandusky, a former Penn State University football coach, on child sex abuse charges and his subsequent conviction and imprisonment in 2012. The state Supreme Court refused this week to hear Mr. Sandusky’s appeal of his conviction.

A special state task force made recommendations to revamp child abuse laws in late 2012, and bills were introduced in both the House and Senate this session. A number of bills addressing such topics as tougher penalties for child pornography, a broader definition for what constitutes child abuse and defining who is a perpetrator of child abuse have already been signed into law.