State Legislature Sends Child Protection Bills to Governor
A wave of new legislation designed to protect children from abuse is coming out of Harrisburg.
The General Assembly drafted the package of new laws in response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed into law three bills that make significant changes to Pennsylvania's child protection laws.
"The bills I am signing into law ... are another step forward in the fight to end child abuse." Corbett said last week. "Today, Pennsylvania says, 'no more' to child abuse."
Senate Bill 24 creates a statewide database for protective services and allows for electronic reporting to facilitate mandatory reporting of child abuse. The law requires reports of suspected child abuse to be submitted electronically or by phone to the Department of Public Welfare. The information in the database would only be used for investigations or background checks such as those for employees.
House Bill 89 terminates the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Fund, supported by the sale of DARE license plates, and directs any further balance of that account to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to award grants to children's advocacy centers during fiscal year 2013-14.
House Bill 316 establishes the Child Advocacy Center Advisory Committee, which will approve and distribute grants to child advocacy centers and multidisciplinary investigative teams.
The Centre County Child Advocacy Center through Mount Nittany Health recently opened its doors in Bellefonte. The center offers a child-friendly, streamlined approach to interviewing children who have made allegations of abuse or have witnessed other crimes. The intent is to create an investigative system that minimizes trauma for the child by reducing the number of times authorities interview the child, all in a child-appropriate environment.
"At Mount Nittany Health, we are pleased that the state is making significant improvements to the laws to protect children," says Kristina Taylor-Porter, director of the Centre County Children's Advocacy Center. "The new laws clearly make a direct financial impact to Children's Advocacy Centers, but beyond the funding, the laws recognize Children's Advocacy Centers as a crucial part in the investigation of child abuse as well as the intervention and healing for the child in cases of abuse. With these laws, the State is taking substantial steps to serve children better."
This week, Corbett is expected to sign these bills into law:
House Bill 436 – This bill adds definitions, outlines and streamlines reporting procedures for mandated reporters while expanding the list of those who are required to report suspected child abuse. The bill also requires the posting of signs in certain business establishments to provide information on where to make a report of suspected child abuse.
Senate Bill 21 – This bill clarifies the definition of mandated reporter to include anyone who comes in contact with a child, or is directly responsible for the care, supervision, guidance, or training of a child as a mandatory reporter.
The bill outlines the reporting process for mandatory reporters, including immediate reporting to the Department of Public Welfare by phone, with a written or electronic report filed within 48 hours. The bill outlines what must be included in the report as well as what is maintained as privileged communication. The bill also allows for limited exemption for sexual assault counselors at rape crisis centers.
House Bill 431 – This bill requires the Department of State licensing boards to ensure reporters are properly trained on how to recognize and report suspected child abuse.
In 2012, a jury convicted former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts of child sexual abuse related to boys he met through his charity, The Second Mile. He is serving a 30 to 60 year sentence in state prison. Meanwhile, three former Penn State administrators are awaiting trial for allegedly attempting to cover up the scandal.