House Adopts Child Abuse Prevention Reform Package

Today the Pennsylvania House of Representatives adopted HB 435, the last bill of the Pennsylvania Task Force for Child Protection legislative package. HB 435 and seven other pieces of legislation were championed by House Children and Youth Committee Chair Rep. Kathy Watson (R-144, Warrington) and several other House members following the recommendations of the Task Force. The group of policy experts was convened by the General Assembly following the discovery of Jerry Sandusky’s crimes in order to bolster protection of children against sexual abuse.

HB 435 introduced by Rep. Dan Moul (R-91, Gettysburg) to expand the practice of background checks for anyone who closely works with or volunteers in a capacity where they supervise children. The bill was unanimously passed in the House.

Another bill passed today dealing with child abuse, but not explicitly part of the Task Force package, was HB 726. This legislation was sponsored by Rep. Scott Petri’s (R-178, Richboro) to clarify the definition of child abuse. Rep. Petri’s co-sponsorship memo on this bill circulated on December 18, 2012, with the following points that the legislation will:

-Bring the standard for physical abuse in line with the language defining “simple assault” in our Crimes Code. In other words, the same conduct that would constitute assault would constitute child abuse.
-Expand the definition of “sexual abuse or exploitation” to include conduct, with regard to a child, that would constitute the criminal offenses of institutional sexual assault, indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor.
-Remove the term “non-accidental,” and replace it with varying standards of culpability (reckless, knowing and intentional), which relate to the conduct constituting “child abuse.”
-Make several technical corrections.
-Bring the standard for abuse that is committed by creating imminent risk for a child more in line with the language defining “endangering the welfare of a child” and “reckless endangerment” in our Crimes Code.
-Create an exception in the definition for the use of justifiable force by a parent, guardian or other person responsible for the care and supervision of a child. Again, this language is based on language in the Crimes Code, so that conduct constituting assault will constitute physical abuse of a child.

HB 726 garnered 24 co-sponsors – 14 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The bill passed the House with 191 votes in favor and six votes against the measure. Republicans Rep. Michele Brooks, Rep. Fred Keller, Rep. Tim Krieger, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, Rep. Carl Metzgar, and Rep. Rosemarie Swanger voted against the legislation.

In review, the Task Force’s recommendation lead to the introduction of eight House bills. The bills are currently being considered in the State Senate. They were adopted as follows:

HB 430, HB 433, HB 434, HB 436 were adopted by the House on June 20, 2013.
HB 431 and HB 432 were adopted by the House on April 17, 2013.
HB 429 was adopted by the House on April 10, 2013.

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