You can’t turn on the news or open a newspaper today without hearing about the Attorney General’s charges against former and current employees of Penn State University related to the sexual abuse of children.
The charges and the events behind the charges are shocking and disturbing, and as much as we would like to go back and change what happened, we cannot. No matter what action we take today or tomorrow, we cannot change what happened to these children.
We can send our thoughts and prayer to the victims and their families, and we can take steps that will provide additional protections to our children moving forward.
I first introduced legislation in September of 2005 to address child abuse by school employees. Through each and every version of it, I have worked with stakeholders – both those who are in favor of the proposed changes and those who had concerns. In that process, I have made concessions and changes to the bill.
I have met with those groups that my colleagues have asked me to, and my staff has spoken with each and every person who has contacted my office on this bill – to hear their story, to determine if we can address their concerns and to continue to improve this bill.
That is what Senate Bill 549 does – it amends the Child Protective Services Law to address suspected abuse by school employees. The bill would lower the threshold for when suspected child abuse by a school employee must be reported and investigated.
The bill provides that the information from a report (now deemed confidential) may be provided to the employer of a person, providing limited information on facts, related to the employee’s suitability in the workplace. The bill removes any separate reporting procedures and would require that reports are made in the same way regardless of who the suspected perpetrator is or what the offense is to ensure that the child’s welfare is the first priority.
The bill strengthens the immunity provisions for those individuals making reports, providing both civil and criminal immunity if the person participates in good faith in making a report (mandated or not), cooperating with an investigation, testifying in a proceeding or referring a report to law enforcement.
I share this with you to make it clear that SB 549 is not a knee-jerk reaction to what occurred in Penn State. It is not grandstanding. It is a well thought out work product that has been developed and improved over six and a half years. I have asked the Senate leadership to act now to protect our children by moving SB 549 to a full vote – and I ask you, today, to help by continuing to advocate for this legislation to protect all of our children.