Child Protection Legislation Signed into Law

One of the most fundamental responsibilities of legislators is to protect Pennsylvania’s children and provide a safe environment in which they can live, learn and play. It is vital that we pass laws aimed at safeguarding children from abuse and prosecuting predators. It is also important that we encourage and protect those who speak up on behalf of victims and shield them from harassment and intimidation.

I am pleased that the state legislature and the Governor placed a high priority on strengthening Pennsylvania’s child protection laws. As part of that effort, through the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in December of 2011, the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection was created. Following a series of public meetings, the task force released a report in November of 2012 that detailed its finding and recommendations for ways the state could improve the protection of children in Pennsylvania. The task force focused on both broad and specific recommendations.

The state Senate and House of Representatives picked up the mantle from there and proposed, in a bi-partisan, bi-cameral effort, a package of legislation to take the necessary steps to ensure children’s safety. Governor Tom Corbett recently signed into law 10 bills from the package of legislation.

One of the bills signed into law last year, Senate Bill 28, was legislation I introduced. This measure lowers the age of a perpetrator for simple assault from age 21 to 18; amends aggravated assault to include (1) causing bodily injury to a child under the age of 6 as a felony of the second degree and (2) causing serious bodily injury to a child under the age of 13 as a felony of the first degree; creates new offenses of “false reports of child abuse” and “intimidation or retaliation in child abuse cases” to protect any reporter, victim or witness who reports child abuse.

This new law holds perpetrators accountable for their actions by increasing the criminal penalties for any person who injures a child. 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.

Some of the other bills that were part of the package include laws that increase penalties for luring a young child into a motor vehicle or structure (House Bill 1594), while another (Senate Bill 30) holds accountable individuals who make false abuse reports by establishing accountability and due process protections for individuals.

Senate Bill 23 and House Bill 726 update definitions of “perpetrator,” “child abuse,” “person responsible for a child’s welfare” and other related terms in the Child Protective Services Law.

Senate Bill 1116 provides for a multidisciplinary investigative team to be used to coordinate child-abuse investigations between county agencies and law enforcement, while Senate Bill 34 establishes a comprehensive system for professional educators who are investigated and disciplined for misconduct in Pennsylvania.

House Bill 321 directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to provide 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 requires the court, in a custody proceeding, to consider factors related to child abuse and involvement with child protective services, while House Bill 1201 amends the Judicial Code concerning child victims and witnesses, and reporting by district attorneys.

Whether in school, on a playground or in a home, children and their parents should feel safe and should not have to worry about individuals looking to prey on children. We must continue to seek ways to prevent child abuse from happening in the first place and, if it does, we must have laws in place that adequately punish those who target children.

These legislative measures are important steps to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our most vulnerable citizens. As we head into the new session, I am hopeful that more bills that were part of the child protection package will receive final passage.

Contact:

Matt Moyer
(610) 366-2327