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Senate Bill 17 Update
SB 17
April 19 2005

SUMMARY

Senate Bill 17 is approved by the Ohio Senate. It is expected to be introduced in the Ohio House following a two week Spring break.

Update: Substitute Senate Bill 17 was approved (31-0) by the Ohio Senate on March 16, 2005 with substantive changes. The Ohio General Assembly is beginning a two-week break and will reconvene on April 6. Shortly thereafter Sub.SB17 is expected to be introduced to the Ohio House and assigned to a committee.

Link to amended version of the bill [Substitute SB 17]: http://www.legislature.state.oh.us/bills.cfm?ID=126_SB_17 NOTE: The underlined provisions indicate new law.

Outline of prominent changes: · Section 2151.421(A)(4) adds clerics – and other persons (except volunteers) acting as a leader, official, or delegate; or acting in an official capacity on behalf of the church – to the list of mandated reporters of reasonably suspected child abuse or neglect. · Section 2151.421 changes the term “suspects” to “has reasonable cause to suspect based on facts that would cause a reasonable person in a similar position to suspect.” (Note: This change is viewed as an objective standard.) · Section 2305.111(C) extends the civil statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to 20 years from the date on which a victim reaches the age of majority (18). · Section 3(C) - in the temporary section - allows a victim of alleged childhood sexual abuse to make a claim 35 years retroactive (if brought to civil action within 1 year of the bill’s effective date or 2 years if the victim’s case is currently pending). · Section 2907.03(A)(12) adds to the felonious crime of “sexual battery” the circumstance in which a cleric engages in sexual conduct with a child who is a member of the congregation where the cleric serves.

The most substantive amendments pertain to the extension of the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse. This was a direct result of the tragic cover-up of sexual abuse by Catholic priests brought to the public limelight in recent years. Testimony by victims created an emotional climate both in committee and on the Senate floor as speeches were made by members prior to the vote.

It is critical, however, to understand that there are STILL provisions in the bill that will have a negative impact on the outreach ministry of the church and will force an illegitimate encroachment of the state into the affairs of the church. Even though revisions were made to the mandatory reporting requirements to exclude church volunteers, Sub.SB 17 would STILL require pastors and paid personnel to report the abuse of a child (physical, emotional, or sexual) if there is a “reasonable cause to suspect.” This means pastors, even prior to entering into counseling and ministering to individuals, would have to turn them over to state agencies. This provision would also apply to church staff and guest ministries (if payment is made for their services). For example, if a church hosts a marriage seminar, a participant may open up to the guest minister seeking guidance for a troubled marriage. If the guest speaker has any reason to suspect she has experienced abuse, he would be mandated under state law to report the family to social services or local law enforcement. Pastors, themselves, would have no opportunity to minister to the family prior to turning them in.

This provision still presents constitutional problems from the perspective of the “free exercise clause” of religion in the 1st Amendment.

Action: Please contact your own state senator to provide feedback on his/her vote. We WILL be seeking additional amendments to the bill on the House side. Please stress that when the bill comes back to the Senate with further changes to keep pastors off the list of mandated reporters, you are going to ask him/her to support the changes in a “concurring vote.”

An additional alert will be posted after Sub.SB 17 is assigned to a House committee.

The Cleveland tragedy did NOT occur because clerics failed to report the child abuse in families they served. It occurred because the clerics WERE the abusers. Expanding the list to include clerics won’t compel abusive priests to report on themselves.

Current law already requires ANYONE to report a felony (i.e. sexual abuse of a minor). Leaders within the Catholic Church who covered up the abuse ignored this requirement. Even the victims acknowledged that changing the reporting requirements would not specifically help their situation.