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Senate panel approves protections against child sexual abuse

Rod Boshart, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa –

DES MOINES – Iowa lawmakers are looking to provide whistle-blower protections against employment-related retaliation for anyone who reports incidents of child sexual abuse or inappropriate activity in the workplace similar to scandals that were uncovered at colleges in Pennsylvania and New York.

A Senate subcommittee gave initial approval Tuesday to legislation that would prohibit an employer from taking retaliatory action against an employee as a reprisal for the employee’s participation in a good-faith effort to report child abuse. Senate File 2035 also requires public and private colleges in Iowa to implement reporting policies in the wake of the Penn State scandal, bolsters training for mandatory reporters, and provides for the distribution of information on child sexual abuse.

“It prevents retaliation, but it goes much farther than that,” said Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, who authored a bill that he noted was in the works before a sex abuse scandal rocked the Penn State football program last year. “It’s all about protecting kids. I think this bill goes a long way. It’s not perfect but I think it goes a long way for doing just that.”

The retaliation prohibition in S.F. 2035 — which would not apply when the disclosure of information is prohibited by statute – would be enforced through civil action. A person who violates the retaliation ban would be liable to an aggrieved employee and a court injunction could be granted if the person commits, is committing, or proposes to commit a prohibited retaliation.

The legislation also requires the boards of directors for regent universities, community colleges and accredited private colleges and universities in Iowa to develop and implement a consistent written policy for an employee who has direct contact with a child to report suspected child abuse. The policy must include an employee’s responsibilities, including the time, circumstances, and method for reporting suspected child abuse to the post-secondary institution’s administration and law enforcement.

The policy should not prohibit an employee from reporting suspected child abuse to law enforcement, according to the Senate measure.

Ann McCarthy, a legislative liaison for Iowa State University, said regent universities are in the process of reviewing their requirements for reporting sexual abuse of children with a follow-up discussion expected at February’s board meeting. She said the proposed legislation would address “gray areas” of the Iowa law in cases involving summer youth camps or volunteer situations involving minors on college campuses.

“It constructively expands the world of who is going to have responsibility for reporting,” she said.

Another provision requires the establishment and development of a plan to provide more frequent, informative, and effective training for mandatory reporters.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, who left Tuesday’s meeting without signing the subcommittee report, said he wanted to see the measure apply to abuse victims under the age of 21, rather than 18.

The measure now goes to the Senate Education Committee for consideration.

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