State Senate Passes Sweeping Update of Child Protection Laws

HARRISBURG – The state Senate [yesterday] approved a series of bills to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws, according to Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25) and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-9). The Senate leaders say the bipartisan package is based on recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December 2011. The panel held a series of public meetings and released its report in November 2012.

“These bills will help to make our child protection laws stronger and more effective, ensuring that we are doing everything we can to protect children from abuse and neglect,” Senator Scarnati said. “I commend members of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee and its chair, Senator Bob Mensch (R-24), for their thoroughness in hearing testimony and drafting a package that reflects and builds upon the recommendations made by the Task Force on Child Protection.”

“Pennsylvania’s child protection laws are long overdue for review and update. The recommendations made by the Task Force on Child Protection helped us understand what needs to be done in order to prevent and deter child abuse and neglect. The passage of this bipartisan child protection package is an important step in this critical process,” said Senator Mensch.

“Many members of the Senate have invested countless hours to develop these bills and ensure that they will better protect the children of Pennsylvania,” Senator Pileggi said. “I’m proud to support these bills and look forward to working with our colleagues in the House and the Governor to ensure that a strong package of legislation is enacted this fall.”

The Senate approved six child protection bills [unanimously]. All enjoy broad support from child advocates across Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 21, sponsored by Senator Kim Ward (R-39), makes critical improvements to the list of individuals who are required to report child abuse. Mandatory reporters include licensed health care practitioners, school administrators, teachers, or other school employees, child care services providers, religious leaders, social services workers, and employees or volunteers with direct child contact in the course of their employment.

“In the summer of 2011, I was chairing the Aging and Youth Committee and we held several public hearings about deficiencies in Pennsylvania child abuse laws,” Senator Ward said. “Then the Sandusky situation unfolded, and it was apparent that we had more than just a few flaws to address, so I sponsored a resolution to create the Task Force on Child Protection.”

Regarding Senate Bill 21, Senator Ward said, “Under the old law it was not clear who was considered a mandated reporter. This bill specifically lists the jobs of people who are responsible for the care and supervision of children and therefore fall under the reporting requirements of the law.”

Senate Bill 22, also sponsored by Senator Ward, increases the penalty for failure to report child abuse by a mandatory reporter to a second-degree misdemeanor. Three new offenses are added, including intentionally interfering with the making of a report or referral of child abuse (first-degree misdemeanor), concealing child abuse (third-degree felony), and willful failure to report while the individual has reasonable cause to believe a child is actively being abused (third-degree felony).

Senate Bill 23, sponsored by Senator Lisa Baker (R-20), updates the definition of “perpetrator” and expands the definition of “person responsible for a child’s welfare.” The definition differentiates between acts of commission and acts of omission.

“This bill is a crucial piece in the effort to enact laws sufficient to deal with the scope of abuse we confront in society today,” said Senator Baker. “Law enforcement and protection officials must have full power and ability to investigate, charge, prosecute, convict, and sentence those guilty of evil acts of child abuse.”

Senate Bill 27, sponsored by Senator Mensch, improves the exchange of information among medical practitioners and county agencies by requiring immediate reports and by allowing for follow-up reports to medical practitioners regarding the condition of the child.

Senate Bill 30, sponsored by Senator Ted Erickson (R-26), establishes accountability and due process protections for individuals working with delinquent children, and provides for penalties for making false reports of child abuse.

“Over the years, the number of false claims of child abuse against staff who work with delinquent children and students in juvenile detention and private residential facilities has increased, and false reports cause great harm to real victims,” said Senator Erickson. “My legislation establishes specific timelines for appeals for indicated cases of child abuse. It will also contain provisions to establish a sub-file within the State Registry of those who have been found guilty of intentionally filing a false report.”

Senate Bill 33, also sponsored by Senator Mensch, provides employee whistleblower protection for anyone who properly and in good faith reports suspected child abuse.

Additional bills in the child protection package are still advancing in the Senate and are expected to be considered in the near future.

~ News Release via Dominic F. Pileggi,
Pennsylvania Senate, 9th District Senate ~

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