HARRISBURG – The state Senate today continued its work strengthening Pennsylvania’s child protection laws, passing five strong bills aimed at protecting children from abuse.
Today’s action follows Senate passage two weeks ago of six measures to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws. The package was based on the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in 2011.
The Senate approved the following bills today, all with unanimous votes:
Senate Bill 28, introduced by Senator Pat Browne (R-16), will lower the age of a perpetrator for simple assault from 21 to 18. This bill also expands the definition of aggravated assault to include:
- Causing bodily injury to a child under the age of 6 (second-degree felony); and
- Causing serious bodily injury to a child under the age of 13 (first-degree felony).
Senate Bill 28 also will create the new offenses of “intimidation or retaliation in child abuse cases” and “false reports of child abuse” to help further protect the victims, witnesses and reporters of child abuse.
“This bill strengthens Pennsylvania’s child abuse laws by holding perpetrators accountable for their actions and by increasing the criminal penalties for any person who injures a child,” Senator Browne said. “In addition, this legislation creates the new offense of ‘intimidation’ or ‘retaliation’ in child abuse cases to protect the person filing the report on behalf of the abused child. These changes are important steps to increase the safety of Pennsylvania’s young people, fully prosecute those who prey on children and to protect those who have a responsibility to report cases of child abuse.”
Senate Bill 24, introduced by Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-40), will require the Department of Public Welfare to establish a secure, statewide database to include reports of child abuse and children in need of protective services.
“This database will act as a clearing house, allowing various agencies to more easily provide and share information,” said Senator Vulakovich. “The agencies will be able to more easily access information that may be currently missed when reviewing reports of suspected abuses cases. This will benefit law enforcement and social agencies and, especially, the children at risk for abuse.”
Senate Bill 29, introduced by Senator Pat Vance (R-31), will require health care providers to immediately report if a newborn is identified as being affected by prenatal exposure to illegal substances. Upon receipt of the report, the county agency shall perform an assessment and determine whether child protective services or general protective services are warranted.
“This legislation gives newborns who may be affected by illegal substances the opportunity for early treatment and a better chance for a healthy life,” said Senator Vance.
Senate Bill 1116, co-sponsored by Senator Bob Mensch (R-24), will provide for multidisciplinary investigative teams to coordinate child-abuse investigations between county agencies and law enforcement. The county agency and district attorney will develop a protocol for convening the multidisciplinary investigative teams, which have proven successful in the parts of Pennsylvania where they are already used.
“When a child finally feels safe enough to tell someone about abuse, they often have to relive their experience multiple times, telling their story over and over to medical professionals, county agency investigators, law enforcement and prosecutors,” Senator Mensch said. “A multidisciplinary investigation reduces that trauma by allowing a team to coordinate with all the appropriate individuals in an investigation and subjecting the child to only one forensic interview that can be used throughout the investigation and prosecution of the alleged abuse. This speeds up the process of stopping the perpetrator and helps the child move forward.”
Senate Bill 31, co-sponsored by Senator Mike Folmer (R-48), will close a loophole. Currently, the law provides that if there is a case of suspected child abuse in which the alleged perpetrator is a school employee, there is no requirement to report that abuse unless it rises to the level of a “serious bodily injury.” The bill would amend the Child Protective Services Law to eliminate what is now a separate system for reporting abuse by school employees.