State Sen. Kim Ward hopes to get a bill increasing penalties for failure to report suspected child abuse signed into law later this year.
The bill was approved unanimously by the Senate Aging and Youth Committee Tuesday, one of the preliminary steps in the law-making process. Ward, R-Hempfield, said there’s no time to waste.
“The goal was just to get it out and get it moving,” she said.
The bill would apply to those mandated by law to report suspected abuse. For first violations, the bill would increase the penalty from a third- to a first-degree misdemeanor. Second and subsequent violations would result in a third-degree felony, rather than a second-degree misdemeanor.
Mandated reporters include health care workers and educators.
A task force Ward created through a Senate resolution has had a hand in the bill’s evolving language. Ward hopes to receive more recommendations from the task force throughout the year to update the proposed legislation as necessary.
The panel meets periodically to examine all aspects of state child abuse laws, including how Pennsylvania defines child abuse and how it is reported. A final report is due Nov. 30.
Ward had held hearings on the subject before criminal charges against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky surfaced in November. Sandusky is on trial in Centre County on multiple counts of sexually abusing young boys.
It’s a good time to get the bill moving, Ward said, with the state’s spotlight on alleged instances of abuse that were apparently not reported at the university.
“That calls everybody’s attention” to the issue, she said.
State Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, is a co-sponsor on the bill. White believes the bill is a step in the right direction, said his chief of staff, Joe Pittman. Ensuring the protection, “safety and well-being of our children” is paramount in society, Pittman said.
The bill will be considered by the full Senate.