This is from Else, he used up his quota for the day.
Clarity in laws will protect our children
By Rep. MARY STUART GILE
For the Monitor
March 01. 2006 8:00AM
The Legislature recently voted to further study a bill that would require clergy of all faiths to report child abuse. The bill involved the New Hampshire Child Protection Act, which is fundamental to the safety and protection of the state's children. Interim study will enable the committee to further investigate issues such as constitutionality and to try to develop a resolution to the ambiguity that exists between state laws.
The publicity surrounding the bill totally obscured its purpose.
HB 1127 proposes to clarify the ambiguity in two statutes that have been in effect since 1979. The Child Protection Act reporting law mandates everyone, including ministers of all faiths, Christian Science practitioners, priests and rabbis, to report child abuse however and wherever they learn of it. The second statute, the Privileged Communication statute, allows any member of the ordained clergy to refuse to be a witness in a case where the disclosure of the crime was made to him or her in a spiritual setting such as confession.
HB1127 does not change that even if it involves a crime against children. The distinction between the two statutes is the "requirement" to report and a conditional exemption from testifying.
The confusion between the two bills evolved because of a case involving the Jehovah's Witness faith community and the abuse of two little girls whose mother reported the abuse several times to church elders and was told not to tell anybody. When the abuse was finally reported to the authorities by another party, the perpetrator was found guilty and sentenced to 56 to 112 years in jail.
When the case same to court in 2003, the attorneys for the elders used the Privileged Communication statute in their defense. The trial court judge agreed and ruled in favor of the elders.
The case was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which voted, 3-1, to agree with the trial court's outcomes. Justice Dalianis dissented, stating that in failing to report, and not instructing the other to report, the church elders allowed the abuse to continue.
Thus, the Supreme Court is alleged to have acknowledged the ambiguity between the two statutes and implied that it was the Legislature's responsibility to resolve it.
A 2005 Concord Monitor editorial stated: "There are no easy answers to the questions the case raises. But the next session of the Legislature needs to spell out when church leaders must live up to the reporting law and when they are exempt. It should also clarify when it is appropriate to sue for civil damages caused by a failure to report abuse."
Interim study will enable the Committee on Children and Family Law to examine the issues involved and, by Nov. 1, determine whether resolution of the ambiguity is possible. If so, a new bill will be filed with appropriate amendments.
I was asked to sponsor HB 1127 by individuals concerned about child protection and domestic violence. According to the Child Protection Act, child abuse must be reported. Withholding information not only condones the abuse but allows children to continue to be victimized.
Our prisons and, to a large extent, our mental health system exist to try to rehab and remedy the effects of child physical, sexual and emotional abuse. The financial costs are staggering, the waste in human potential is tragic.
The Legislature's vote for further study is affirming and in the best interest of the state's children.
(State Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, a Democrat, lives in Concord.)
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By Rep. MARY STUART GILE