- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2011

In the wake of the Penn State football scandal, a Maryland state senator is considering legislation to toughen the state’s penalties against adults who fail to report suspected child abuse.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican, said Friday she might sponsor a bill in next year’s General Assembly that would install harsher penalties against adults who are required by law to report suspected child abuse but fail to do so.

Current state law requires Maryland educators, health practitioners, human-service workers and police officers to report suspected child abuse to police or a local social-services department. Violators face a fine, but Mrs. Jacobs said she wants them to instead face criminal charges.

“We want to protect kids. There are times when you think you’ve got all your bases covered with laws, but then a situation comes up like this,” she said, referring to the case against former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was arrested this month and charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse.

Mr. Sandusky, a longtime assistant at the school who spent 23 years as the team’s defensive coordinator before retiring in 1999, is accused of sexually abusing at least eight boys between 1994 and 2009.

Prosecutors say much of the abuse took place on campus and in football team facilities, including Mr. Sandusky’s suspected rape of a 10-year-old boy in an on-campus shower in 2002.

Assistant coach Mike McQueary, at the time a first-year graduate assistant, told a grand jury he witnessed the assault and reported it the next day to head football coach Joe Paterno, who then reported it to athletic director Timothy Curley and university administrator Gary Schultz.

Maryland law requires any school employee to directly report such child abuse cases to police or social services, but Pennsylvania law gives employees an option to instead report such incidents to a workplace superior.

As a result, Mr. McQueary and Mr. Paterno were not charged with any legal wrongdoing, while Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz — who did not report the case up the chain of command or alert authorities — face charges of failure to report.

Mrs. Jacobs, a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, said some Maryland legislators have unsuccessfully lobbied in the past for criminal penalties against failure to report. She said the events at Penn State show the need for tougher child-abuse laws.

“When you see a lapse in the law, automatically you want to close it,” she said. “If they had a reporting requirement — and there was a criminal penalty — maybe those involved back then would have said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to report this.’”

This is not the first time a high-profile legal case has inspired Mrs. Jacobs to consider new legislation.

After last summer’s Casey Anthony trial, the senator said she might sponsor a bill next year making it a felony for parents not to report the death of a child.

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