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November 27, 2012 | By | Posted in General News

Post Sandusky, report calls for new child protection laws

By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers have a host of new suggestions to hear on how to improve child protection laws in a state still reeling from the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal.

The state’s Task Force on Child Protection released a much-awaited report on Tuesday, recommending essentially a re-write of the Child Protective Services Law. That includes redefining what behavior constitutes child abuse, as well as expanding who is required to report suspected child abuse under the law.

Another recommendation is barring schools from entering into confidentiality agreements with educators accused of abuse.

While many lawmakers have publicized their desire to see changes to child protection laws, the question is how long that process is going to take.

A bulk of the 455-page task force report includes drafted language for proposed legislation.

DERMODY: Said he would like to see child protection laws improved sooner rather than later.

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, said in a statement he hopes to see these changes in the coming session.

“Part of the tragedy of recent child abuse scandals is how long it took to bring abusers to justice. We ought to work in a bipartisan way in 2013 to improve state laws sooner rather than later,” he said.

One place Dermody sees the state starting is with upping the staff at ChildLine, the state’s hotline for reporting child abuse.

In 2011, more than 8 percent of calls were dropped before being answered, according to Dermody’s office.

Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai-R, Allegheny, said that some proposals looking to strengthen penalties already have existing support in the legislature and may move fairly quickly next session. But proposals will have to work their way through the committee process to be properly vetted, he said.

The task force was formed in late 2011, shortly after the news of the Sandusky sex abuse case broke. The 11-member panel included attorneys, judges, school officials and child safety advocates, appointed by the governor’s office and legislative officials.

Task force chair, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, said in a statement the report recommends “a transformation” in how the state handles reports of child abuse and the way those crimes are treated.

But Heckler said many of the issues will require additional public hearings before changes are enacted.

“Strengthening these laws must be done as soon as possible, but we should recognize that it cannot be done overnight,” Heckler said.

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Melissa Daniels is a reporter for PA Independent. She can be reached at 717-350-0962 or Melissa@PAIndependent.com

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