The state House of Representatives last week approved a bill to redefine child abuse in Pennsylvania and a pair of related bills aimed at strengthening laws to encourage more reporting of alleged instances.
"Current law is too vague, and the burden of proof is too high," Rep. Scott Petri, R-Bucks County, said of House Bill 726. "My bill would fix that and would help to insure that actions most people would regard as abuse will be judged accordingly and children will be protected."
That sounds like welcome news at a time when our state remains in need of sweeping changes to its child protective services law.
Since the Jerry Sandusky sexual-molestation scandal, lawmakers have come up with several bills aimed at improving the state's law that are failing to protect children from abusers and abuse.
"Pennsylvania's child abuse statistics are well below the national average," Petri said. "That doesn't mean less abuse is occurring here. It means that fewer cases are meeting the state's high threshold to be deemed abuse under current law and children are being returned to abusive situations."
In the Sandusky case, the longtime assistant Penn State football coach was convicted a year ago of dozens of counts of child sexual abuse that occurred over several years before an investigation was initiated that led to criminal charges.
Sandusky, now serving a lengthy prison sentence, acknowledges that he showered with boys but denies molesting them.
House Bill 726 spells out types of abuse and harm, such as bodily injury, sexual abuse or serious physical neglect, and it specifies violent acts that constitutes abuse.
House Bill 435, meanwhile, proposes to expand the definition of who must obtain clearances from the state Department of Public Welfare. It also calls for volunteers who work with children to update those clearances every two years.
The third proposal, House Bill 436, would expand the list of people required to report suspected child abuse cases. As written, it would include: school personnel, child care providers, religious leaders, health care workers, social service workers, law enforcement officers, attorneys, librarians, emergency medical service provides and all employees and independent contractors of these entities.
With overwhelming support from the House lawmakers, these bills have now moved onto the Senate, where they should receive prompt attention and action.
We look forward to the day when Pennsylvania's child protection laws are stronger.