Child Abuse Panel Hears Recommendations from Two Prosecutors

Two assistant district attorneys who prosecute child abuse cases brought their ideas to a panel that’s reviewing Pennsylvania’s child protection laws and procedures for reporting child abuse.   The Task Force on Child Protection is holding a series of hearings and must issue a final report by the end of November.

Sean McCormack thinks the state’s mandated reporting law needs more teeth. The chief of the Dauphin County Child Abuse Prosecutions unit says the penalty should be as serious as the offense against the child.   For example, if someone fails to report the  rape of a child, he believes that violating the mandated reporting act should be a felony of the first degree. He says the current penalty is a slap on the wrist, a misdemeanor of the third degree.

 McCormack says the child protective services law and the crimes code use different language, leading to communication barriers between prosecutors,  and children and youth workers.  He adds that caseworkers are not required to report certain situations to law enforcement, such as child endangerment and simple assault. He says we need to take down these barriers.

McCormack recommends good quality training for mandated reporters, starting even at the college level when they are still students.  He also suggested a child advocacy license plate to help raise money for training or supporting Children’s Advocacy Centers.  He says Pennsylvania has sports teams, colleges and all sorts of groups that are getting money from license plates.

Edward McCann, First Assistant District Attorney for Philadelphia County, told the panel there should be a process to ensure that children who are home schooled receive the same oversight as children attending public, private and parochial schools, especially if their family has a history with child protective services.

Hunting, Forests

Farmers Pleased with Landowner Liability Bill

Landowners who allow hunting on their properties can be held responsible for Game Code violations, under current law, but SB 1403 would limit that liability. 

The legislation breezed through the state Senate unanimously last week, and appears to have farmers’ support.  “You just don’t have that much cash around, you know, to try and defend yourself for something that you shouldn’t have been held liable for to begin with,” explains Adams County Farm Bureau president Dan Wilkinson. 

While Wilkinson hasn’t dealt with such liability issues himself, he supports the measure as being in farmers’ best interest. 

 “We should be encouraging farmers and landowners to open their land for hunting and other recreational purposes instead of threatening them with legal consequences for the actions of others,” said State Senator Richard Alloway (R-Franklin/Adams) in a written statement.  Alloway is both the bill’s prime sponsor and Chairman of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee. 

“You’d have people standing on top of each other,” added Wilkinson about the prospect of limiting hunting to state-owned game lands.  About 80% of the huntable land in the state is owned by farmers and other private landowners.    

The bill does specify that property owners could still be held responsible if they receive a payment or fee from the hunter.   It now awaits House committee action.

Diverse Group Presses for PA Prison Reforms

A new coalition of corrections reform advocates brings together voices from all across the political spectrum.  “I think extreme partisanship has affected government at all levels,” former Democratic Governor George Leader explained at a capitol appearance.  Leader praised the cooperative effort, which organizers are calling “transpartisan.” 

“We have common goals… We can spend less and get more from this,” added Matt Brouillette, who leads the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative think-thank in Harrisburg. 

They’re talking about Pennsylvania’s prison system, which has added 18-lockups since 1980 and currently houses 51,000 inmates. 

Corrections Secretary John Wetzel

PA Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel

Nearly 45% of those who are released will wind up back behind bars within three years.  “We gloss over it by saying, ‘oh, that’s our recidivism rate.’  No.  These are people who are getting out and who are screwing up our community,” says Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel who’s lending his support to the new coalition. 

Wetzel says they’re already making policy changes to make the system more efficient and effective, but they need legislative help too.  “We’re talking about transforming the system to one that is corrections, literally.” 

The group wants to assess an offender’s risk earlier, target resources and programming to those most likely to re-offend and rely on specialty courts as an alternative to incarceration for non-violent offenders. 

Secretary Wetzel is also trying to cut down on long waits to release prisoners who’ve already been paroled.  He says a 100-day delay costs the taxpayers $9,000 dollars per parolee. 

“If any of these things were going to save money, but potentially increase the crime rate, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Wetzel explains, as he stresses the goal is to reduce the crime rate.

New Studies say Young People Taking Risks That Can Lead to Skin Cancer

Young adults are increasing their risk for skin cancer according to a pair of studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute.  

One study finds that half of people ages 18 to 29 reported at least one sunburn in the past year despite an increase in protective behaviors, such as wearing sunscreen.  The other study finds indoor tanning is still common among young adults.

 Dr. Marcus Plescia, director of the CDC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, says some young people may not be using sunscreen properly and may have a false sense of security when they use it, staying in the sun longer than they should. He says sometimes people are not aware they need to apply sunscreen frequently. There’s a perception you put it on, and it’s good for the day, which he says is not accurate.

Dr. Plescia also agrees young people may not be wearing sunscreen and taking protective measures during common outdoor activities.  He says people have come to know when you’re sitting in the beach in blazing sun, you need to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing.

Dr. Plescia says this is the age group where, if they have the exposures while they’re young, they’re more likely to develop skin cancer.  He says malignant melanoma   is a deadly form of skin cancer, one they’re most concerned about preventing.

Dr. Plescia says there’s also great concern about tanning bed use.  He says it’s a significant risk for cancer, because tanning beds are considered a carcinogen.

The study found almost one-third of women ages 18 to 25 used tanning beds regularly over the last year. Among white adults who report indoor tanning, 58% of women and 40% of men used one 10 or more times in the previous year.

Dr. Plescia says the incidence of malignant melanoma is actually higher among men than women.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 05.11.12

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Marcellus Shale

PUC Moves Forward with Impact Fee Provisions, Minus Zoning Issues

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has finalized provisions of Act 13, related only to the collection and distribution of the impact fee for natural gas wells.    The commission has put the zoning portion on hold, due to pending litigation. Spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says the final implementation order contains various deadlines, including the reports due from natural gas producers.  The fees must be paid to the PUC by September 1st.

The order also includes forms that municipalities will need to collect their share of the fee. Municipalities will have to submit a 2010 budget report, because some of the money that will be disbursed is based on that information.  Kocher says all 37 eligible counties have authorized collection of the fee.

Money will be distributed to eligible counties and municipalities by December 1st.

The PUC did take the next step toward hiring outside legal counsel to provide advice on zoning issues related to Act 13, but no contract has been approved yet.

Seven municipalities are part of a group suing the state, claiming the new law is unconstitutional, in that it takes the power to control property away from towns and landowners  in favor of the oil and gas industry. The  lawsuit was filed in Commonwealth Court in March. A judge issued an injunction in April blocking implmentation of the zoning portion of the law.  The case is expected to be heard next month.