Harrisburg – A bipartisan group of state senators today unveiled a package of legislation to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws.
Legislators taking part included Sen. Kim Ward (R-39); Republican Chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24); Democratic Chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-4); and Senate Democratic Caucus Administrator, Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42).
“I am pleased the Senate will be taking action on the reforms suggested by Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection formed by my resolution, SR 250,” Ward said. “The legislation should have no problem sailing through the Senate because all of us, Republican and Democrat, understand how important these reforms are to protecting our kids.”
“The first step in ending the cycle of child abuse is to know what it is and how to define it,” Washington said. “My legislation, Senate Bill 20, provides a thorough and exhaustive definition of child abuse, to help us protect our children from harm.”
“As Chairman of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, the renewed focus on child abuse in Pennsylvania over the last year has provided a serious challenge, and opportunity, to help implement comprehensive reforms that will improve child protection, especially at the point when someone first suspects child abuse to the time when an investigation is initiated and in progress,” said Mensch. “Among the shortcomings in current law that this package addresses is the need for better coordination between agencies, and protections for those citizens who come forward to report abuse. It’s past time to update these laws for the 21st century.”
“My legislation, which was originally introduced eight years ago, would remove the different reporting requirement for school employees and put them on the same level as other mandated reporters,” Fontana said. “We have a public and ethical responsibility to protect our children and ensure their safety in our schools. It doesn’t matter who is suspected of abuse. Each case should be handled the same.”
The package implements changes recommended by 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. Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, who chaired the task force, applauded the legislators’ efforts.
“I am delighted that the Pennsylvania Senate has chosen to pursue a collaborative, bipartisan approach to the drafting and introduction of legislation which embodies so much of what our Task Force recommended after a year of hard work,” Heckler said. “The children of Pennsylvania will be made far safer by the passage of this package of bills. I and my fellow Task Force members look forward to helping in any way we can.”
The package includes the following bills:
- Senate Bill 20 Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-4), Sen. Kim Ward (R-39)
Updates the definition of “child abuse” and provides exclusions.
- Senate Bill 21 Sen. Kim Ward (R-39), Sen. John Blake (D-22)
Clarifies who is a “mandatory reporter” of child abuse.
- Senate Bill 22 Sen. Kim Ward (R-39), Sen. Tim Solobay (D-46)
Increases penalties for failure to report child abuse.
- Senate Bill 23 Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D-2)
Updates the definition of “perpetrator” and expands definition of “person responsible for a child’s welfare.”
- Senate Bill 24 Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-44), Sen. Larry Farnese (D-1)
Requires the Department of Public Welfare to establish a Statewide Database of Protective Services.
- Senate Bill 25 Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-44), Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-18)
Updates procedures used to report child abuse and neglect.
- Senate Bill 26 Sen. John Yudichak (D-14)
Requires DPW to establish a three-digit, statewide number for reporting child abuse or for children in need of protective services.
- Senate Bill 27 Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24), Sen. Mike Stack (D-5)
Improves the exchange of information among medical practitioners and county agencies.
- Senate Bill 28 Sen. Pat Browne (R-16), Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17)
Amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) to comprehensively strengthen Pennsylvania’s child abuse laws.
- Senate Bill 29 Sen. Pat Vance (R-31), Sen. Shirley Kitchen (D-3)
Requires health care providers to immediately report if a newborn is identified as being affected by prenatal exposure to illegal substances.
- Senate Bill 30 Sen. Ted Erickson (R-26), Sen. Richard Kasunic (D-32)
Establishes accountability and due process protections for individuals working with delinquent children in juvenile detention facilities and residential rehabilitative institutions.
- Senate Bill 31 Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42)
Eliminates the separate system for reporting abuse by school employees.
- Senate Bill 32 Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19), Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-38)
Requires a school district to notify the county agency when a child is enrolled in a home-schooled or cyber-school program and requires the county to do a risk assessment.
- Senate Bill 33 Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24), Sen. Jim Brewster (D-45)
Provides employee whistleblower protection for child abuse reporting.
- Senate Bill 34 Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-13), Sen. Anthony Williams (D-8)
Establishes a comprehensive system for professional educators who are investigated and disciplined for misconduct in Pennsylvania.
- Senate Bill 46 Sen. Anthony Williams (D-8)
Prevents “passing the trash” — hiring educators who have been investigated, dismissed or disciplined for abuse or sexual misconduct.
The next step in the process to boost child protection across Pennsylvania will be an April 9 joint public hearing on the package by the Senate Aging and Youth Committee and the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.
Carol Milligan (Senate Republicans)
Stacey Witalec (Senate Democrats)