|The Health and Human Services Committee Monday voted 8-2 against passage of a bill that would make it a criminal offense if school personnel and others fail to report suspicion of child abuse, saying many calls are being made but there is concern about the state’s capacity to respond.
The bill is L.D. 1919, An Act To Criminalize the Failure To Make a Report of Child Abuse or Neglect as Required by Statute. It says if anyone on the list of 32 mandatory reporters fails to call the Department of Health and Human Services with their suspicion of abuse, they could be charged with a Class E crime and face a fine of up to $500 or 30 days in jail.
The list includes teachers, doctors, dentists, clergy, bus drivers, code enforcement officers and municipal inspectors.
It was pointed out in testimony that mandatory reporters already face a $500 fine for not reporting under current law and are required to take training.
MSMA Executive Director Steven Bailey spoke on behalf of the Maine School Boards Association and the Maine School Superintendents Association about their concerns with the proposal.
“If training reporters is not working the way it should, we need to improve the training, not make criminals out of well-intentioned people. We also need to make sure that when suspected abuse is reported, there is follow-through by the appropriate agencies,” Bailey said.
“Our associations have long called for better coordination between the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education not only in this area, but on absenteeism, truancy, early-childhood interventions and Medicaid/MaineCare coverage.”
The 8-2 ought-not-to-pass vote on L.D. 1919 from the Health and Human Services Committee makes its passage unlikely when the Legislature returns to Augusta on Thursday.
Other bills of interest
L.D. 1919 is part of a package of proposals from the governor’s office affecting DHHS child-welfare operations. The most substantive is L.D. 1923, which proposes spending more than $21 million to improve the system, including hiring more case workers and management staff, creating Child Welfare Investigator positions, and increasing reimbursement rates for foster homes.
A sixth, late-filed bill from the governor’s office is L.D. 1924, An Act To Improve Information Sharing Relating to Investigations of Educators. It would normally be heard by the Education Committee, but because of its late timing is expected to go straight to the Legislature on Thursday.
L.D. 1924 would require a school district to notify the Department of Education when it opens an investigation into a credentialed school employee and provide all final reports on that investigation to the department. It also would require the DOE to notify districts when it is making a similar investigation. All records reviewed would be confidential.