The state House on Wednesday passed legislation aimed at keeping sexual predators out of schools, yet this milestone left the head of a national advocacy group that is championing this issue disappointed.House passes a bill that bolsters the vetting process of school employees and contractors to try to prevent sexual predators from working in schools. It is similar to one the Senate passed in June, which is sitting idle in the House Education Committee.
By passing by a 199-0 vote instead of a in June, it leaves more students at risk of being sexually abused or exploited by educators, said Terri Miller, president of the Nevada-based
Now the House bill will go to the Senate for consideration, which could take weeks or months. If the House instead had passed the Senate-approved bill, Miller said it would be heading to Gov. Tom Corbett s desk for enactment.
I find it reprehensible and it s unacceptable, Miller said. As a parent, as an advocate, to play political games with this kind of legislation is disgraceful.
But House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said Miller apparently was ill-informed of the controversial unrelated House amendments that had been offered to the Senate-passed bill. Those amendments, if added, would have put the bill's chances of winning House approval in jeopardy.
Further, he said her group never reached out to offer to work with House members on the issue. Instead, he said the group sent out an email with incorrect information about a teacher sexual misconduct incident in a western Pennsylvania school district that prompted House Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, who represents the area where the school district, to take the rare step of leaving the rostrum on Wednesday to come down to the House floor to defend that district's handling of the incident.
"If you are going to advocate for an issue such as this, alittle intellectual honesty would go a long way," Smith said.
The House bill, sponsored by Rep. David Maloney, R-Boyertown, would require prospective employees in school positions and contractors that come into direct contact with children to disclose whether they had been the subject of a sexual misconduct investigation or disciplined or discharged while being investigated for such activity.
It, as well as the Senate-passed bill sponsored by Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, also requires school districts to conduct a thorough employment history check of prospective employees and contractors to inquire about any past investigations or allegations concerning abuse or sexual misconduct to avoid a practice that has been called passing the trash. And it would ban schools from cutting a deal to maintain the confidentiality of findings or allegations of sexual misconduct against a current or former staff member.
By providing for immunity from criminal and civil liability for school employers and contractors, it would eliminate any threat of them being sued for disclosing information about an employee or former employees sexual misdeeds.
The that Miskin said made it a stronger bill than the Senate-passed version. It would require the state Department of Education to maintain an electronic database of criminal history of individuals who work in school districts for districts to access. Education department spokesman Tim Eller said this likely would carry only minimal cost to implement but the department is still reviewing what all would be entailed.
Maloney dismissed Miller s accusation about political gamesmanship being played by the House. He said he too wants to see this requirement become law and said he brought this issue with him when he was elected to the state House in 2010. He said he shares Miller s frustration with the length of time it can take for a law to pass but that is out of his control.
I m worried about protecting our kids, Maloney said.
Maloney said in published by PennLive, that reports of educator sexual misconduct seem to occur almost weekly.
He cited the recent case of who stands accused of performing a sex act with a student, as one example, and who is facing a sex-crime charge involving a student, as another.
But Miller said this delay in getting a law in place only serves to increase the chance of more incidents like those examples to occur.
We want to make sure the barrier between children and predators is unbreakable and we want to make sure that barrier is in place. We don t want to find out about a predator after a child has been harmed. We want to prevent that harm from happening. That s what this bill is all about, Miller said.
So far, only Oregon and Missouri have laws that beefed up the vetting process of school employees and contractors who come in contact with children to identify any past sexual misconduct allegations. Miller said her hope is that Pennsylvania soon becomes the third one so her group can shop the proposal around to other states.
Passing the trash is truly an evil that exists within our educator system, Miller said. They are in our schools today with children and until a child is harmed, we won t know about them.
*This post was updated to include comments from House Speaker Sam Smith and House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin.