PA Senate Approves Bill Dramatically Expanding Abuse Reporting Requirements at Colleges and Universities

Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP
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Summary

On October 16, 2013, the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 31 which, if approved by the House of Representatives and signed by Governor Corbett, would substantially expand colleges’ and universities’ child abuse reporting obligations.

In the wake of the revelation of the allegations of sex abuse perpetrated by Jerry Sandusky, institutions across the country have evaluated and strengthened policies designed to protect minors from abuse on campus. S.B. 31 would take matters a step further in Pennsylvania.

While all colleges and universities have taken steps to protect children on campus and make appropriate reports when child abuse is suspected, their actual obligations under Pennsylvania’s existing mandatory reporting law are not so clear. For example:

  • Under current Pennsylvania law, it is not clear that colleges and universities fall under the mandatory reporting statute’s use of the term “school;” and
  • As the current statute is drafted, an employee’s status as a mandated reporter is arguably premised in part on whether or not he or she recognizes suspected child abuse based on his or her “training” or “experience,” which, again, arguably places employees without such training or experience outside the scope of the statute.

S.B. 31 would eliminate both of these ambiguities by (1) explicitly defining “school” to include institutions of higher education, whether private, state owned, or state related, and (2) defining “mandated reporter” to include any employee of any “school,” which in turn includes all institutions of higher education.

Additionally, under current Pennsylvania law, a mandated reporter who suspects child abuse has an obligation only to report his or her suspicion to a designated official within the institution, who is then required to make a report to the county agency. Senate Bill 31 radically expands these obligations to report. S.B. 31 places on every institutional employee an independent obligation to (1) personally and “immediately” make a report to ChildLine, followed by a more comprehensive written report made within 48 hours to the authorities; and then (2) “immediately thereafter” report the suspected abuse internally to the institution’s designated official.

Where Do Things Stand?

S.B. 31 has been referred to the House Committee on Children and Youth, and the Committee has not yet scheduled a meeting to take up discussion on the Bill. We will continue to follow developments on S.B. 31 closely, but if you have any questions about Senate Bill 31, the current state of child abuse reporting obligations in Pennsylvania or elsewhere, or would like advice on how to develop policies and procedures to ensure your institution’s compliance with its reporting obligations, please contact the author.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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