By Joyce Lombardi
The 2019 legislative session in Annapolis is in full swing. (Mark your calendars for Tuesday, March 12, BCAC Lobby Day!) It’s an exciting time, with new leadership in several committees and several fresh new faces from right here in Baltimore and around the state of Maryland. BCAC will continue working with our existing legislative and advocacy partners while we form new relationships during this legislative session, so that together we can address childhood trauma and abuse. Here’s what we are working on this legislative session, and how you can help:
What We’re Working On This Session
Children’s Advocacy Centers for all Maryland Children
BCAC is supporting a bill, along with members of the Maryland Children’s Alliance, to help ensure every child has access to an accredited children’s advocacy center (CAC). Following a report of child abuse or neglect, a child should be seen promptly at a nationally accredited CAC, where he or she can talk with a trained forensic interviewer in a child-friendly setting, thus reducing trauma of multiple interviews by different agencies, and helping to create trustworthy legal evidence if needed. Nationally accredited CACs also take part in multidisciplinary teams that collaborate to get the best outcomes, and provide medical evaluation, family support and mental health services. While many child centers in the state try to meet this best practices standard of service, many lack the infrastructure or resources to do so. This bill so far has gained wide support among our CAC partners in the state and other stakeholders. Senator Susan Lee of Montgomery County, a longtime friend of children’s and women’s issues, is the lead sponsor in the Senate. The House sponsor is exciting newcomer Emily Shetty of Montgomery County. So far the bill has received warm bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, by, among others, Senators Will Smith, Jeff Waldstriecher, and Chris West, and in the House by Delegates Kathleen Dumais, Jazz Lewis, Susan McComas, and David Moon. Legislators from around the state continue to voice support on each of our visits. Many of our CAC partners have been joining us in Annapolis to explain our work to their representatives.
Mandatory Reporter Accountability
Most (over 60%) reports of child abuse come from professionals such as teachers, youth workers and health personnel. Although all professions have a binding legal duty to report suspected child abuse, some simply do not report. BCAC, along with other advocates, faith-based institutions, prosecutors, social workers and pediatricians support a law that would close a final gap in Maryland and provide penalties for those few—but dangerous—professionals who turn a blind eye to known child abuse. Maryland is one of only two states in the nation that lacks such a law. A similar bill sailed through the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee under Chairman Bobby Zirkin of Baltimore County last session but stalled in the House Judiciary. The new vice chair of House Judiciary, Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary of Howard County, is ready to steward a new accountability bill through this session.
School personnel who engage in sexual misconduct with students in one school district are often passed to and re-hired in another. BCAC supports efforts by State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and Delegate C.T. Wilson to end this practice. The law would do what criminal background checks do not: require that school job applicants and former employers reveal past investigations or discipline for sexual abuse or misconduct.
Decriminalizing Child Victims of Human Trafficking
BCAC, along with its partners on the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force, supports legislation that would allow child victims of human trafficking to vacate criminal charges related to trafficking, and to avoid being charged in the first place.
How You Can Help
- Come to Annapolis for BCAC Lobby Day March 12th! Come help raise awareness about abused children and childhood trauma! Bring your colleagues and friends. Stay tuned for more information.
- Make just one phone call this session. Call just one of your legislators to voice your support for a specific child abuse awareness bill that BCAC is working on this session. We will provide a list and talking points. Even one call makes a difference.
- Get involved in one particular bill. Does one of the bills we are working on interest you more than others? To join that workgroup, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-923-7005.
Joyce Lombardi, Esq. is BCAC’s Director of Government Relations and Legal Services. She can be reached at email@example.com and she welcomes questions and comments about how child abuse laws are being used in Maryland.