Senate to examine child abuse laws in wake of Penn State scandal
Stepping up Washington’s response to the Penn State child sex abuse scandal, a Senate committee plans to hold a hearing on whether stronger laws are needed to protect children from child abuse and neglect.
Word of the hearing comes as lawmakers from both parties have gotten behind legislation to require that anyone witnessing child abuse report it to law enforcement or a child protection agency. The latest bill, called the Speak Out to Stop Child Abuse Act, was introduced Monday by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) with Republican support.
It also comes on the heels of Monday's announcement that former FBI Director Louis Freeh would launch an independent investigation into the Penn State scandal.
A number of bills have been introduced in the Senate, including the Child Abuse Reporting Enforcement, or CARE, Act by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). That bill would require states to mandate the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement and child protective services in order to receive federal social services funding. It also would require a penalty of at least a year in prison for anyone failing to report abuse.
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension subcommittee on children and families, called the Dec. 13 Capitol Hill hearing, saying that she and others in Congress have been "troubled and distraught about the child sexual abuse allegations" coming out of Penn State. A list of witnesses was being prepared.
In the Penn State scandal, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period, and two top university officials have been charged with lying to cover suspicion about him.
The university's president, Graham Spanier, and its football coach, Joe Paterno, have lost their jobs amid the unfolding allegations and as questions have arisen about who knew what, when they knew it, and what they did, or didn't do, with the information.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), who requested the hearing, said in a statement that it would provide "an opportunity to ensure that our federal laws are protecting our children from dangerous sexual predators.''
A similar hearing has been requested in the House by Rep. George Miller of Martinez, Calif., top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee. A spokeswoman for the panel’s chairman, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), said: "The committee is monitoring the situation at Penn State carefully and will assess the need for congressional action after the Department of Education concludes its investigation into the matter."
-- Richard Simon in Washington
Photo: Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images