Pennsylvania Senate Republican News Brief


“This bill strengthens Pennsylvania’s child abuse laws by holding perpetrators accountable for their actions and
by increasing the criminal penalties for any person who injures a child.”

Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), sponsor of Senate Bill 28, part of a second round of child protection bills passed by the Senate last week.


Preview

Senate Session Monday at 1 p.m.

The Senate State Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster), will hold a public hearing on Right to Know legislation, and the nomination of Joel Frank to the State Athletic Commission. (Monday, 10 a.m., Room 1 N. Office Bldg.)

The Senate Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. John Eichelberger (R-Blair), will hold a joint hearing with the House Local Government Committee on Pennsylvania’s proposed 2014-15 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services block grant program state plan. (Wednesday, 10:15 a.m., Room 8E-B)

Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Franklin) will co-host a news conference and Bring Your Dog to Harrisburg rally to announce a package of bills designed to protect pets. (Tuesday, 11 a.m., Capitol steps)

Watch this committee activity live at PASenateGOP.com.
Senate Committee Schedule

Review

Senate Approves Additional Measures to Bolster Child Protection

The Senate continued its work strengthening Pennsylvania’s child protection laws, unanimously passing five strong bills aimed at protecting children from abuse. Wednesday’s action follows Senate passage two weeks ago of six measures to provide sweeping improvements to Pennsylvania’s child protection laws.

Among the latest round of bills approved is Senate Bill 28, sponsored by Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), lowering the age of a perpetrator for simple assault from 21 to 18. This bill also expands the definition of aggravated assault to include:

Causing bodily injury to a child under the age of 6 (second-degree felony); and

Causing serious bodily injury to a child under the age of 13 (first-degree felony).

Senate Bill 28 also will create the new offenses of “intimidation or retaliation in child abuse cases” and “false reports of child abuse” to help further protect the victims, witnesses and reporters of child abuse.

For other child protection bills approved by the Senate on Wednesday, please see In the Spotlight, below.

Extension of Children’s Health Insurance Program Enacted

Legislation extending the life of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) through December 31, 2015 and getting children covered sooner was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday.

House Bill 108 was approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, chaired by Sen. Don White (R-Indiana), earlier this year.

CHIP provides health insurance to uninsured children and teens who are not eligible for or enrolled in Medical Assistance. Coverage is free for families below income limits, with families earning more paying monthly premiums and co-pays for some services. As part of his HealthyPA initiative, Governor Corbett has called on the Legislature to reauthorize the CHIP program and remove the current requirement for children to go six months without insurance before becoming eligible.

Senate Approves Rafferty Legislation to Toughen Arson Penalties

Legislation sponsored by Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) to significantly strengthen Pennsylvania’s arson laws and create the new crime of “aggravated arson” was approved by the Senate on Tuesday.

Among other changes, Senate Bill 1024 would create a new class of crime known as aggravated arson and set tougher sentencing guidelines.

Senator Rafferty worked with Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery), Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan and other local leaders to draft the legislation after serial arsonists set more than 30 fires in Coatesville several years ago. The fires caused more than $3 million in damage, left scores of people homeless and resulted in the death of an 83-year-old woman. For more on Senate Bill 1024, please see Fast Facts, below.

In the Spotlight

The child protection bill package was based on the recommendations of the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, created by the passage of Senate Resolution 250 in 2011. Other measures include:

Senate Bill 24, sponsored by Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny), requires the Department of Public Welfare to establish a secure, statewide database to include reports of child abuse and children in need of protective services.

Senator Vulakovich: “This database will act as a clearing house, allowing various agencies to more easily provide and share information. The agencies will be able to more easily access information that may be currently missed when reviewing reports of suspected abuses cases. This will benefit law enforcement and social agencies and, especially, the children at risk for abuse.”

Senate Bill 29, sponsored by Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), requires health care providers to immediately report if a newborn is identified as being affected by prenatal exposure to illegal substances. Upon receipt of the report, the county agency shall perform an assessment and determine whether child protective services or general protective services are warranted.

Senator Vance : “This legislation gives newborns who may be affected by illegal substances the opportunity for early treatment and a better chance for a healthy life.”

Senate Bill 1116, co-sponsored by Senate Aging and Youth Committee Chairman Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery), provides for multidisciplinary investigative teams to coordinate child-abuse investigations between county agencies and law enforcement. The county agency and district attorney will develop a protocol for convening the multidisciplinary investigative teams, which have proven successful in the parts of Pennsylvania where they are already used.

Senator Mensch: “When a child finally feels safe enough to tell someone about abuse, they often have to relive their experience multiple times, telling their story over and over to medical professionals, county agency investigators, law enforcement and prosecutors,” Senator Mensch said. “A multidisciplinary investigation reduces that trauma by allowing a team to coordinate with all the appropriate individuals in an investigation and subjecting the child to only one forensic interview. This speeds up the process of stopping the perpetrator and helps the child move forward.”

Senate Bill 31, co- sponsored by Sen. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), closes a loophole. Currently, the law provides that if there is a case of suspected child abuse in which the alleged perpetrator is a school employee, there is no requirement to report that abuse unless it rises to the level of a “serious bodily injury.” The bill would amend the Child Protective Services Law to eliminate what is now a separate system for reporting abuse by school employees.

Fast Facts

Senate Bill 1024: Cracking Down on the Crime of Arson

  • Creates a new class of crime known as aggravated arson and sets tougher sentencing guidelines.
  • A person can be convicted of aggravated arson if he intentionally starts a fire – or if he aids or pays someone else to start a fire – with the intent to cause bodily injury or knowing that someone was inside the property at the time.
  • Increases penalties if a firefighter, police officer, emergency responder or civilian sustained injuries as a result of the crime.
  • Stronger sentences could also be imposed if more than three people were inside the property at the time of the crime or the arson resulted in more than $1 million in property damage.
  • Clarifies that a convicted arsonist could be charged with second-degree murder if the fire or explosion unintentionally caused a person’s death and first-degree murder if the cause was intentional.