Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Two Education Bills

I've been getting a lot of email recently about two bills, one federal and one state, on sexual abuse of children in schools or by teachers.  Like almost everyone I deplore this kind of crime.  However, there are some issues with these bills. 

The Jeremy Bell Bill, sponsored by PA Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-08).  You can read the entire bill at, it is HR 3766.  There are only seven co-sponsors, four of them are also Pennsylvania Republicans:  Charlie Dent (R-15), Jim Gerlach (R-06), Pat Meehan (R-07), and Todd Russell Plats (R-19).

One of the  main sections of the bill reads as follows:

Sec. 1822. Transfers for employment of individuals engaging in child sex acts

    `(a) Prohibition on the Interstate Transfer of Child Sex Offenders- Whoever, being an employer, directs, causes, persuades, induces, or entices the travel in interstate commerce of an employee in one State with the purpose or effect of facilitating the employment of such employee in another State, if the employer knows that such employee engaged in a sexual conduct with an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
    `(b) Definitions- As used in this section--
      `(1) the term `sexual conduct' means any sexual conduct, unless the employee was convicted of a crime for that conduct and has satisfied the terms and conditions imposed as a result of that conviction, if the conduct--
        `(A) is a sexual act or sexual contact as those terms are defined in section 2246;
        `(B) occurred during the course of employment; and
        `(C) would constitute a felony violation of the criminal law applicable where it took place; and
There are a couple of things that concern me -- one is that an employee who has served time for the offense can be encouraged to move.  Perhaps that is because they would show up in a crime database?  Another is that the working is rather vague on what constitutes knowledge.  Are people responsible for rumors they hear?

Here is another section of the bill:

`SEC. 9538. STATE LAW.

    `(a) State Law on Reporting Incidents of Sexual Conduct Involving a Minor- As a condition of receiving funds under this Act, a State shall have in effect and be enforcing a State law and State policy that, as determined by the Secretary, ensures the following:
      `(1) Individuals employed at a school located in the State report to law enforcement officials any known or suspected incidents of sexual conduct involving a minor and an individual employed at the school or any other school in the State.
      `(2) The State ensures that any individual who violates paragraph (1) by failing to report to law enforcement officials any such incidents is fined or otherwise penalized.
      `(3) The State makes available in an interstate clearinghouse to schools, local educational agencies, and State educational agencies, the identity of any individual--
        `(A) who was reported under paragraph (1) as being involved in an incident of sexual conduct with a minor; and
        `(B) whose employment at a school in the State was terminated as a result of the incident.
      `(4) The State creates safeguards to ensure that the information described in paragraph (3) is only made available to schools, local educational agencies, and State educational agencies, and not the general public.

It requires people to report suspected cases, but such information is limited to schools, not the general public.  There is no wording on holding an investigation.  There is no way for anyone to clear their name.  Once suspected always under a cloud.  I wish the wording were a little better on the process here.  

The state bill, SB1381, introduced by Sen. Anthony Williams, and co-sponsored by Senators Piccola, Dinniman, Washington, Farnese, Fontana, Rafferty, Costa, Waugh, Browne, and Boscola. It was originally introduced in January but was significantly altered by an amendment in May.  Initially it left no possibility for people to clear their name.  The amendment allowed for investigations that ended with evidence of false allegations to be expunged.  

Even so, I still have some problems with it.  To be hired in any kind of school applicants have to provide a list of all previous employers going back ten years (or back to the applicant's 18th birthday), along with the employers address and phone number.  For people who have been substitute teachers at a number of school systems that could be difficult.  An employee who leaves while under investigation must be reported as such.  There does not appear to be any way to clear their name unless they remain at that school until the investigation is complete and the allegations are found false. 

Any school employee who responds to requests about current or former employees is released from criminal or civil liability unless they know the information is false.  Not releasing the information can lead to penalties.

I wholeheartedly approve of legislation that keeps predatory people away from children in any setting.  However, I have qualms about these two pieces of legislation, that if they are passed innocent people will be prevented from applying for jobs or unfairly barred from jobs in the education field.  There is a delicate balance to protecting children and maintaining due process and equitable hiring practices.  

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