Officials including athletic directors and school principals could face criminal penalties if they fail to report suspected child abuse.
That's the focus of a bill that will get a public hearing Wednesday afternoon before the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee.
State Rep. Gerald M. Fox III, co-chairman of the committee, said Tuesday that the bill is aimed at stopping the chain of administrative silence that led to the Penn State University sex scandal of 2011.
"This is to prevent people in supervisory roles to handle abuse claims privately rather than reporting to police," said Fox, D-Stamford, who introduced similar legislation last year. It's based on the sex-abuse case against Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach who was found guilty last June of 45 charges of sex abuse.
Currently an athletic director or person in similar supervisory role can be fined no more than $2,500 for failing to report the abuse of children 16 and under.
Under the proposed bill, such neglect could result in a Class A misdemeanor, with penalties of a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Fox said that the penalty could be negotiated and possibly toughened before it reaches full votes in the House and Senate. He's looking forward to testimony in the public hearing to discuss the issues.
He said the point of the legislation is, hypothetically, not to punish a young public school teacher who misses signs of abuse, but rather the administrators who might try to dismiss cases or cover up cases that should be investigated by law enforcement.
"This would target people trying to protect their organizations or themselves, rather than staff," Fox said in a phone interview Tuesday.
The bill would amend current law on so-called mandated reporters, who under state law are required to observe children for signs of either physical or sexual abuse and report it.
The state Department of Children and Families is expected to testify in favor of the bill in the hearing, which starts at 2:30 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building.
Michael P. Lawlor, a former lawmaker who is under secretary for criminal justice policy in the state Office of Policy and Management, said Tuesday that the list of mandated reporters has expanded over the years, from teachers, doctors, and clergy, to coaches and those in authority at youth-oriented activities.
"There are people in the course of their professions who come across information on children who are being abused either physically or sexually," Lawlor said.
"They have been trained and should be under the obligation," he said. "People who run powerful institutions have a conflict of interest sometimes even though they have clear evidence of children being abused. That has to be stopped."
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