In light of the child abuse scandal unfolding at Penn State University, Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-District 44B) said he plans on introducing a bill that would clarify and expand child abuse reporting standards in Minnesota.
“The current (state) law is ambiguous at best and contains dangerous loopholes at worst,” Winkler said in a press release. “There is no more heinous crime than robbing the innocence of a young child. We need to ensure that this law is clear and fulfilling its purpose of protecting children.”
On Wednesday night, Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired, in part because he didn't report allegations of child abuse by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to local authorities. He did reportedly pass the information along to school administrators.
As reported by the Star Tribune, Minnesota law on the matter is vague. Attorney Ann Ahlstrom told the paper that coaches are "mandated reporters" regardless of whether they are paid or whether they are affiliated with schools or youth sports organizations or clubs.
However, state law does not specifically mention coaches. Instead, the applicable statute requires that someone engaged in the practice of the healing arts, social services, hospital administration, psychological or psychiatric treatment, child care, education, correctional supervision, probation and correctional services, or law enforcement to report child abuse. Members of the clergy are also listed as mandated reporters in most cases.
The law requires that a report be made to the local welfare agency, police department or the county sheriff.
Winkler said his bill would expand the reporting requirement to anyone who knows or has reason to believe that a child is being abused or neglected, not just certain professionals. Currently, 18 states have this broad standard, according to Minnesota House of Representatives research.
The representative added that his bill would require that reports go to law enforcement, not state agencies, a person's employer or anyone else.
“These changes will clarify the law and add further protections for Minnesota children,” Winkler said. “As the parent of three young children, I want to ensure that people who can't defend themselves have the best protection under the law.
“We all have an obligation to report the abuse of the vulnerable, and this bill will close some significant gaps in Minnesota law.”