House committees advanced legislation Monday that addresses recommendations from last year’s grand jury report on hundreds of “predator” Catholic priests, less than a week after the full chamber gave the OK to a civil window for older sex abuse victims.
Without any dissenting votes, the House Children & Youth Committee advanced a bill to increase penalties for failing to report child abuse, while the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that affirms the right of child abuse victims to break non-disclosure agreements to cooperate with law enforcement.
The penalties bill makes it a felony to knowingly not report child abuse to authorities. As for the NDA bill, those bound to silence by a legal settlement already can break it for a police investigation, according to sponsor Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Luzerne.
“Currently the silencing agreements are void, and continue to be void, but victims out there don’t believe it to be the case,” she said following the vote.
Her bill clarifies the provision in state law.
Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, has floated proposals in the upper chamber to outright ban non-disclosure agreements from contracts and legal settlements to cover up “harassment, abuse, or discrimination.”
This year’s proposal was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. A similar bill was signed into law in New Jersey in late March.
Toohil was skeptical of such language, saying that victims who are not comfortable coming forward should keep the ability to sign such an agreement. But she was not opposed to further discussions at the request of her colleagues.
House leadership plans to bring the bills up for a vote by the end of the week. With little to no public opposition, the legislation is expected to pass and go to the Senate.
Last year, during the failed push to address the statute of limitations for child sex abuse, Senate Republicans repeatedly asked the House to address all four grand jury suggestions at once instead of passing them piecemeal.