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Sweeping changes suggested for Pa. child abuse law

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania should enact “sweeping” changes to state child abuse laws, a legislative commission concluded Tuesday after a year of study prompted by Jerry Sandusky's arrest on child molestation charges.

The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection's recommendations include rewriting state law, redefining what constitutes child abuse and expanding the list of people who are required to report suspected abuse.

“We propose a transformation in the way information concerning child abuse is handled and maintained, the way in which crimes against children are investigated in parts of the state, and the way in which those with a responsibility for the well-being of children are trained,” said David Heckler, the Bucks County district attorney who chaired the panel.

The recommendations are nonbinding and will probably require a set of as-yet-unwritten bills for the Legislature to consider when it convenes for a new two-year session in January.

“Strengthening these laws must be done as soon as possible, but we should recognize that it cannot be done overnight,” Heckler said.

Sandusky, a 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach, is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence after being convicted this summer of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys. He maintains his innocence and is pursuing appeals.

The task force's highlights of its recommendations include greatly expanding the definition of “perpetrator” in one law, and harsher penalties when people who are required to report abuse fail to do so.

Three others face related charges for their actions in response to complaints about Sandusky acting inappropriately with children in Penn State showers: the university's former president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz. Each has said he is innocent.

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