Last updated: March 18. 2013 10:56PM - 2463 Views
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HARRISBURG — Bills sponsored by some local legislators are among a package introduced Monday by a bipartisan group of senators to improve Pennsylvania’s child protection laws.

The package implements changes recommended by the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection created by the General Assembly in the wake of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s arrest on child molestation charges in November 2011.

The panel held a series of public meetings and released its report in November 2012.

“The Task Force told us that we can provide greater protections for children by expanding the definition of who should be considered a perpetrator of child abuse,” state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said in a prepared statement. “My bill updates the Child Protective Services Law to include individuals with direct or regular contact with children.”

Specifically, the new definition adds employees or volunteers with direct contact with children through programs and activities, such as camps, athletics or clubs; school teachers and employees; any person present in a child’s home when the alleged abuse occurred; an individual related to the child by birth, marriage or adoption to the fifth degree; those involved in a previous relationship with a child’s parent; and former step-parents.

Senate Bill 23, which is cosponsored by Baker and Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, also would expand the definition of a person responsible for a child’s welfare to include anyone who has direct or regular contact with a child through any program, activity or service sponsored by a school, for-profit organization or religious or other not-for-profit organization, regardless of where the child abuse occurs.

“All children deserve to grow up in a safe environment and all parents deserve the peace of mind, knowing that their children will not be victimized by dangerous child predators,” said Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township. “This bipartisan package of legislation is another step toward protecting the safety of our communities and, most importantly, the future of all Pennsylvania children.”

Yudichak said his legislation, Senate Bill 26, would establish a three-digit statewide toll-free number “where anyone can report child abuse 24/7. Children cannot stop child abuse without our help, and by establishing this hotline, we will give everyone that suspects child abuse a direct line to someone that can help protect that child.”

Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald, also co-sponsored a bill in the package. Senate Bill 21, co-sponsored by Blake and Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield Township, clarifies who is a “mandatory reporter” of child abuse.

A total of 16 bills were introduced.

The next step in the process will be an April 9 joint public hearing on the package by the Senate Aging and Youth Committee and the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

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