A bill introduced by two local legislators that could become law would make it a crime to interfere with the reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect.
Current Maryland law requires teachers, counselors, social workers, caseworkers, and parole or probation officers to notify appropriate agencies if they suspect child abuse. The bill seeks to punish anyone who tries to interfere with such reporting.
The legislation was introduced in the House of Delegates by Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, and in the Senate by state Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.
“What the bill does is it establishes a criminal penalty that anyone who interferes with an individual who is trying to make that report is guilty of a misdemeanor,” Shank said.
According to the Department of Legislative Services, the bill would punish those who are guilty of such interference with a maximum prison term of five years and/or a $10,000 fine.
There have been discussions in previous years in the Maryland General Assembly about the issue of mandatory reporting, Shank said, because there have been situations in the state where mandatory reporters have been aware of child abuse, but were told by various supervisors not to report the issues.
Another example, Shank said, was “the Penn State situation, where it became known to various people that this was going on and administrators high up in the administration of Penn State didn’t want that material to come out because it would have been damaging.”
Shank was referring to the case of Jerry Sandusky, the assistant football coach at the university who was convicted of child molestation and currently is serving a prison term.
Former Penn State President Graham Spanier and some other senior officials have been charged criminally in connection with their alleged roles in the concealment of the child abuse.
“Maryland didn’t have any sort of punishment for that, and I think the Penn State scandal ... most people know about that and will be relieved to know that Maryland now has some sort of wall ... so (if) something like that happens, we can punish it,” Hough said.
The Maryland Department of Human Resources, Maryland Sheriffs Association and Maryland Chiefs of Police Association were among the organizations supporting the bill.
“This bill, if passed, will strengthen the State’s current laws pertaining to reports of suspected child maltreatment by providing citizens additional incentives to report suspected child maltreatment and by providing additional legal protection for persons reporting suspected child maltreatment in good faith,” according to written testimony filed in support of the bill by the Maryland Department of Human Resources.