HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — The first bills in the Pennsylvania Legislature's wide-ranging response to the Jerry Sandusky and Roman Catholic clergy scandals were sent Wednesday to Gov. Tom Corbett, a year after a commission recommended sweeping changes to the state's child abuse laws.
The state Senate unanimously approved five bills to send to Corbett, and a sixth was expected to get House approval next week. One bill headed to Corbett's desk would expand the definition of who investigators can consider a potential perpetrator of child abuse to include relatives who do not live in the same residence as the child and coaches or people who are in contact with children through community programs or activities.
All told, roughly 20 bills are part of the legislative package that is designed to overhaul the way child abuse is defined, investigated and punished in Pennsylvania.
Democratic Sen. LeAnna Washington of Philadelphia, a survivor of child abuse, said she is proud of the work that the Legislature has done.
"Passing this legislation will ensure that every case of suspected child abuse is properly investigated, bringing abusers to justice and helping families and victims heal," Washington told colleagues during her floor comments.
Washington's bill, which also passed Wednesday, would lower the threshold for the kind of injury to a child that could trigger child welfare workers to summon a medical examiner.
One key bill that won Senate passage Wednesday still requires House passage, which is expected next week. That bill would address a longstanding complaint of child welfare advocates by lowering the threshold for the kind of injury or pain that is considered child abuse.
"Since we started this journey to protect kids, we've always said the definition (of child abuse) drives it all," said Cathleen Palm, co-founder of the Protect Our Children Committee.