Penn State-inspired abuse reporting measure with $1 million penalty headed to Scottby Dara Kam | March 8th, 2012
College and university administrators could be fined $1 million per incident for failing to report child abuse that takes place on campus under a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott
The measure was inspired by the Penn State University child abuse scandal. The Florida “Protection of Vulnerable Persons” measure (HB 1355) would impose a fine of up to $1 million for each time any public or private university or college administration knowingly and willfully fails to report child abuse that occurs on campus. If signed into law by Scott, Florida would become the first state in the country with such a law.
The child molestation scandals inspired Rep. Chris Dorworth to sponsor the measure at the request of influential lobbyist Ron Book, whose daughter Lauren is a child abuse survivor and advocate. Her organization Lauren’s Kids works to prevent childhood sexual abuse.
“The bill ensures that the protection of a child is treated as a greater priority than the reputation of an institution,” Lauren Book said in a press release. “It sets a national standard in affirming that child abuse reporting is everyone’s responsibility.”
Last year, former Penn State defensive coordinator Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky was arrested last year on charges that he sexually abused at least eight boys over a 15-year period. After Sandusky’s arrest, the university fired long-time coach Joe Paterno, who died last month, and president Graham Spanier. Athletic director Tim Curley and a vice president stepped down from their positions and are accused of perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse.
The bill also makes the Department of Children and Families’ child abuse hotline the sole entity responsible for handling child abuse reports. Now, the hotline is only required to accept reports if caregivers are suspected of sexually abusing the children. DCF officials say they take all calls and refer calls about abuse other than by caregivers to local authorities. The change would require hotline operators to process all abuse complaints.
The House unanimously passed the measure Friday evening with a 117-0 vote. Yesterday, the Senate approved it 35-4. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, was among those voting against it. He said the bill goes too far by requiring anyone to report suspected child abuse because different cultures have different standards of what constitutes abuse and what is considered acceptable discipline of a child.