The state Legislature is considering proposals that would require more people to report suspected child abuse.
OLYMPIA — Reacting to recent alleged child-abuse cases, including the Penn State scandal, state lawmakers are considering legislation that would expand the pool of people required to report suspected abuse to authorities.
A bill in the Senate would require academic, athletic and administrative staff members at universities and colleges to report evidence of child abuse or neglect to either the Department of Social and Health Services or to law enforcement.
Other school employees, such as janitors, would have to report such incidences to an administrator or supervisor.
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A separate bill in the House, supported by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, would require all adults to report any signs of severe child abuse or neglect.
“Most people don’t need a law to tell them to do the right thing, but some do,” Satterberg said.
Under both bills, failure to report alleged child abuse would be a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Several Penn State officials, including the college president, have been fired or placed on leave amid allegations that they failed to adequately pursue reports that former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing children, including in the football locker room.
Sandusky is charged with more than 50 counts of sexual abuse. He denies the charges.
In Washington, current state law requires certain people such as physicians, school employees, nurses, pharmacists and supervisors in nonprofit and for-profit organizations, to report abuse.
Members of the clergy, attorneys, counselors and others may not be required to report under a privileged-communications exception.
College employees aren’t among those currently required to contact authorities about possible abuse.
“Since there are an increasing number of children on college campuses, it should be mandatory that they report,” said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, prime sponsor of the Senate bill, SB 5991.
Kohl-Welles said she thinks including all adults in a mandatory-report law is an unrealistic approach. But Mary Meinig, director of the Washington State Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman, said it could be a step toward stopping continuing abuse.
“We should all be responsible for vulnerable children,” Meinig said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 18 states require anyone who suspects child abuse or neglect to report it to authorities.
“Far too many adults just turn their heads and walk away when they’re aware of very serious abuse,” said Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, sponsor of the House bill, HB 2331.
In addition to the Penn State scandal, Dickerson said, her bill was prompted by the case of Timothy Dampier, a former Seattle minister and musician who was charged last May with four counts of child molestation and one count of child rape.
During testimony on the bill last week, Dickerson said an alleged victim told a pastor that he’d been abused as a child by Dampier, but the pastor didn’t contact authorities.
Court documents say the pastor held a meeting with Dampier and the alleged victim to discuss what happened. Dampier reportedly acknowledged “playful” touching but denied any molestation, the documents say.
Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, said it is unclear whether the pastor was exercising privileged communication in failing to report what the alleged victim said.
Court records say the alleged victim told another Seattle minister about Dampier, and that minister contacted police.
Dampier has pleaded not guilty and is being held in the King County Jail on $500,000 bond.
The House Committee on Early Learning and Human Services passed the House bill Thursday and sent it to the Rules Committee.
The Senate bill got a hearing in the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections Jan. 13, but it has not yet been voted on.
Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, chairman of the Senate Committee on Human Services and Corrections, said the bill has a good chance of getting voted on before the Friday deadline to move bills out of committee.
Stephanie Kim: 360-236-8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org