- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

ANNAPOLIS — A measure that would make it a crime for some professionals to knowingly fail to report evidence of child abuse was passed yesterday by the Maryland Senate on a 35-10 vote.

The bill would make it a misdemeanor for educators, human services workers, police officers or health care practitioners who have reason to believe a child has been abused but fail to report the evidence while they are acting in a professional capacity.

Violators would face a $1,000 fine, but no jail time.

Current Maryland law does not criminalize failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Now, state licensing boards can discipline doctors, nurses and social workers for failing to report evidence of child abuse, and educators are required to report it as well.

Supporters of the bill argue that there are too many cases of preventable child abuse, and the legislation is designed to create extra encouragement for professionals not to look the other way, if they have reason to believe something may be wrong.

All we’re saying is we want to give them a little more of an incentive, a little more of a push, said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat.

Supporters also pointed out that 38 states and the District make the failure to report child abuse a misdemeanor. Some states even impose jail time ranging from 10 days to five years.

Sen. Dolores G. Kelley, Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the measure, said the bill provides immunity for people who report suspected abuse that turns out to be unfounded.

But opponents argue the bill puts an unfair burden on professionals who already work hard to be observant about child abuse.

While supporters contend that the bill wouldn’t effect professionals who were simply unaware of any evidence of abuse, opponents said they were concerned teachers or other affected professionals could end up as scapegoats in dramatic cases.

I’m just a little bit worried about what this might cause in the future if we make it a criminal penalty and we have the state’s attorneys going out looking to prosecute folks, said Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Howard Republican.

The bill also adds coroners, medical examiners, parole and probation agents and computer technicians to the list of professionals who are obligated to report suspected child abuse.

The bill now heads to the House, which has a similar bill pending.

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