Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Cautionary Instruction: Legislators race to capital to prevent PSU repeat

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
November 18, 2011

The Penn State sex scandal and cover-up has generated a bevy of activity at the state capital. As with other high profile criminal prosecutions legislators look to law making as a way to prevent future victimization.
Last Sunday, Governor Tom Corbett appeared on NBC's Meet the Press. Governor Corbett replied, “Absolutely,” when asked whether Pennsylvania’s Mandated Reporter Law should be changed. He added, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bill passed between now and the end of this year.”
However, with a flurry of bills being proposed in the state House and Senate, Governor Corbett cautioned lawmakers to move deliberately as they consider legislative fixes to the Penn State scandal. Everybody wants "to do something," Corbett said. "We should do something. But we need to do it in a very thoughtful, deliberative process."
Below is by no means an exhaustive list of pending or proposed legislation but it provides a glimpse into the bi-partisan reaction of state legislators to the scandal at Penn State.
State Sen. Kim Ward (R., Westmoreland) has authored a bill that would make it mandatory for anyone employed by a college or university to report child abuse. The bill also would require that any allegations go directly to the head of the institution and to the state Department of Public Welfare.
Rep. Kevin Boyle (D., Phila.) introduced a bill that would mandate all child abuse allegations be reported directly to the police.
A bill proposed by Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery) would create an offense of sexual assault by a sports official -- including coaches, referees, and employees of nonprofits that engage in sports activities.
State Sen. Wayne Fontana, (D., Pittsburgh), said he would ask Senate leaders to move a bill he first introduced in 2005 that would amend state law to require any professional who works with children to report suspected child abuse to police.
Rep. Louise Bishop (D., Phila.) and Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery), are proposing legislation that would make it mandatory to promptly report suspected sex crimes against minors.
State Rep. Dan Deasy, (D., Westwood), has proposed a bill that would require an individual who witnesses or an individual who is told by a direct witness about a sexual crime against a child to report it to law enforcement. Failure to report could result in a third-degree felony charge, which carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
State Sen. Larry Farnese, (D., Phila.), recently proposed a bill that would bar pension payments to state and city employees convicted of sex crimes against children.
Reactionary legislation has, at times, done more harm than good. The General Assembly would do well to heed Governor Corbett’s admonishment. Proceed with caution. Do not rush legislation and give due deference to the experts who regularly deal with child sex abuse. Let something positive come from this enormous human tragedy.

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