Bill Aims To Clarify Child Protective Services Law; Critics Worry It Would Weaken Measure
The Pennsylvania House will take up a bill that makes some changes to the Child Protective Services Law. That is the law crafted after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
“This is the bill that clarifies the existing statute requiring employees and adult volunteers who work directly with children to obtain criminal background check clearances and child abuse clearances,” said Rep. Katharine Watson (R-Bucks), the bill’s sponsor. “The legislation further delineates who is and who is not subject to those requirements.”
Some have criticized the initial law, saying it’s too vague. Watson’s bill, passed by the House Children and Youth Committee, would address concerns over confusion and ambiguity.
“It more clearly defines who is and who is not subject to the background check clearance requirements, and it changes some language in the interest of consistency and to better reflect the intention of the Legislature, making several technical corrections,” said committee Executive Director Gregory Grasa.
Those include changing an “or” to and “and” in the definition of direct contact so it will refer to “an individual who provides care, supervision, guidance or control of children; AND has routine interaction with children.” But, Grasa said there was ambiguity in that as well.
“There was never a definition for the term ‘routine interaction,’ which caused quite a bit of confusion,” said Grasa. “We’re now defining that term as the regular, repeated and continual contact that is integral to a persons’ employment or a volunteers’ responsibilities. In other words, in that persons’ role as either an employee or volunteer – their contact with children, is it integral to that role?”
This bill would also:
- Permit volunteers who are residents of the Commonwealth, but have not resided in Pennsylvania for the entirety of the previous 10-year period to obtain the required FBI criminal history background check only once upon establishing residency. Current law requires those individuals to obtain an FBI background check clearance every three years until they reach 10 consecutive years of residency in the Commonwealth.
- Exempt minor employees (ages 14 to 17) from obtaining the FBI criminal history background check if the minor has been a resident of the Commonwealth for the previous 10-year period and the minor and the minor’s legal guardian affirm that the minor is not disqualified from serving in the position under the list of prohibited offenses in existing law.
- Make the portability/transferability of the background check clearances applicable to employees who are employed in more than one paid position in which they work directly with children, just as those clearances are portable/transferable for volunteers volunteering for multiple organizations under current law. Current law requires employees to obtain separate sets of clearances for each paid position they hold.
- Stipulate the actual calendar dates by which employees and volunteers must be in compliance with the background check clearance requirements.
- Correct a number of other inconsistencies in the amendment to the CPSL during the 2013-14 legislative session to better reflect the intent of the General Assembly.
The original Child Protection Law was crafted and passed after a couple of years of work by the PA Task Force on Child Protection and lawmakers. Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) said he is concerned the measure undoes a lot of that work.
“This bill significantly reduces the protections that the task for recommended and that we spent two years in hearings adopting before moving forward,” said Stephens. “If there are tweaks, that’s one thing, but this is a policy change.”
Watson had asked that the bill be moved out of committee so that the full House could weigh in and offer amendments. With only two “no” votes, the measure was approved and will now be considered by the full House.