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First Round of Sweeping Child Protection Enhancements Signed into Law

December 19, 2013-Hanson Quickel
HARRISBURG- The two-year effort to strengthen Pennsylvania’s child protection laws reached a major milestone today with the enactment of 10 bills aimed at preventing child abuse and punishing perpetrators.

The bills are part of a bipartisan package of legislation introduced following the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December 2011.

Governor Corbett signed the following bills into law at the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Resource Center, Mechanicsburg:

Senate Bill 23 Sen. Lisa Baker (R-23) updates the definition of “perpetrator” and broadens the definition of “person responsible for a child’s welfare” to include any individual who has direct or regular contact with a child via schools, the workplace, churches and other organizations, regardless of where the abuse occurs.

“My bill is a fundamental piece for protecting children and punishing the perpetrators of child abuse,” said Baker. “There are too many documented instances where the abuser is immediate family. But the abuser may also be a cousin, or a coach, or a cleric, or a caretaker. It is the immoral and illegal act that constitutes the offense, not the relationship between the abuser and the victim.”

Senate Bill 28 (Sen. Pat Browne, R-16) further strengthens Pennsylvania’s child abuse laws by recognizing that perpetrators can be as young as 18, expanding the definition of aggravated assault in child abuse cases, and making it illegal to intimidate or retaliate against a person filing the report on behalf of the abused child.

“This new law holds perpetrators accountable for their actions by increasing the criminal penalties for any person who injures a child,” Browne said. “In addition, it creates the new offense of ‘intimidation or retaliation in child abuse cases’ which not only protects the victim, but also the reporter or witness who acts 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 30 (Sen. Ted Erickson R-26) establishes accountability and due process protections for individuals by requiring false claims of suspected child abuse be maintained in a statewide database, provides for appeals of indicated reports, sets timeframe for hearings and decisions.

“False claims of abuse can ruin lives and take attention and resources away from investigations of actual abuse,” said Erickson. “The pursuit of additional protections for children need not come at the expense of justice, and this measure will help ensure that our focus remains on preventing and prosecuting cases of actual abuse.”  

Senate Bill 34 (Sen. Lloyd Smucker R-13) establishes a comprehensive system for professional educators who are investigated and disciplined for misconduct in Pennsylvania.

“The majority of teachers in Pennsylvania are committed to providing a safe environment for children to learn and grow, and strengthening the Professional Educator Discipline Act is an important step toward helping them achieve this goal,” Smucker said. “The new reforms to this law offer school districts the tools they need to identify a teacher who behaves inappropriately toward students and take the necessary corrective action.”

Senate Bill 1116 (Sen. Leanna Washington D-4) provides for multidisciplinary investigative teams to coordinate child abuse investigations between county agencies and law enforcement.

House Bill 321 (Rep. Marcy Toepel R-147) directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to provide for a sentencing enhancement for child pornography, based upon the age of the child victimized, the number of images possessed, and the nature and character of the abuse.

House Bill 414 (Bernie O'Neill R-29) requires the court, in a custody proceeding, to consider factors related to child abuse and involvement with child protective services.         

House Bill 726 (Scott Petri R-178) amends the definitions of “child abuse” and related terms in the Child Protective Services Law.

House Bill 1201 (Bryan Barbin D-71) provides that a person who is under 18 years of age when they are victims of physical or sexual abuse may have his or her name withheld from the public domain even if the person is an adult at the time of prosecution.

House Bill 1594 (Mike Regan R-92) makes luring a child into a motor vehicle or structure a second-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, up from a first-degree misdemeanor and five years. 

The senators noted that work continues on passing other measures in the Senate child protection package, which was unveiled earlier this year.

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