In a flurry of moves coming at the tail end of the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s 2013 session, state Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) hailed senate passage of a raft of bipartisan bills geared toward strengthening the state’s child abuse laws.
The bills now head to the desk of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, R, for his signature - the final step before becoming law.
“Senate Democrats have worked collaboratively with our Republican colleagues and together we have made progress in addressing key issues as it relates to child protection,” Costa said via a statement released by his office. “The legislation adopted by the Senate this week is significant and includes many priorities identifies by Senate Democrats.”
Pennsylvania Senate Bills 23, 28, 30, 34, and 1116 took months to craft but passed concurrence with relative ease.
SB 23, introduced by State Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), updates the definition of predator in the Pennsylvania Statute.
“My legislation will amend the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) to update the definition of perpetrator. The current definition includes a person who committed abuse; is responsible for the child’s welfare; is the child’s parent; or an individual residing in the house,” read a portion of a memo Baker circulated among peers that further outlined the bill. “The term is amended to include a child’s parent; spouse or paramour of a parent; an individual who is 14 years of age residing in the child’s household; is related within the fifth degree of consanguinity but does not reside in the same household; or is responsible for the child’s welfare.
“‘Perpetrator’” is the individual(s) alleged to have committed the child abuse and is subject to investigation by DPW and county children and youth agencies,” Baker’s memo continued. “The bill expands the definition of ‘person responsible for a child’s welfare’ to include an individual with direct or regular contact with a child through a program, activity or service provided by a school, church program or nonprofit organization.”
SB 28, sponsored by State Sens. Baker and Christine M. Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia), enhances the penalties for both the offense and for making false child abuse claims.
“My legislation will establish specific timelines for appeals for indicated cases of child abuse. It will also contain provisions to establish a subfile within the State Registry of those who have been found guilty of intentionally filing a false report, along with the name of the child involved in the report. The bill allows staff and employees to request expungement of reports in appropriate cases and also permits appeals of private residential rehabilitative institution employees, where the Department of Public Welfare denies requests for expungement,” Erikson wrote in a memo. “In addition, my legislation will include a new section on Immunity from Liability that was recommended by the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection in their report released in November 2013.
“It also includes immunity to Department of Public Welfare and county employees who refer a case in good faith to law enforcement. Good faith is presumed unless actual malice can be proven,” Erickson’s memo continued. “Further, it creates a third degree misdemeanor offense to intentionally make a false report of suspected child abuse against a school, private residential rehabilitative institution, detention facility, school employee, private residential rehabilitative institutions employee or detention facility employee.”
Similarly, SB 30 - sponsored by State Sens. Edwin B. Erikson (R-Chester) and Richard A. Kasunic (D-Somerset), establishes a statewide database for all reports and case of false claims, while SB 34, sponsored by State Sen. Lloyd K. Smucker (R-Lancaster), allows the revocation of teaching certificates should a teacher be found guilty of child abuse.
Lastly, SB 1116, sponsored by State Sen. LeAnna Washington (D-Philadelphia), calls for greater operational and investigative authorities for Multidisciplinary Investigative Teams.
Costa specifically thanked Washington - chair of the Philadelphia Delegation to the State House of Representatives - for her work in guiding these bills through a split senate.
“In particular, Senator Washington has provided strong leadership on this issue for the Senate Democratic caucus,” Costa said. “Her knowledge of the issues and her deep concern for the welfare of children has been very helpful to members on both sides of the aisle.”