Recent Bills Passed by Legislature Seek to Alter Laws Affecting Children

The state legislature recently approved three bills concerning children.  The first, House Bill 726 will redefine “child abuse”.  House Bill 321 alters the laws affecting sentencing in child pornography cases, and House Bill 414 alters custody factors involving past findings of child abuse. 

House Bill 726 will amend various portions of Title 23, Section 6301, et. seq., otherwise known as the Child Protective Services Law. The legislature has amended the term “serious bodily injury” (defined as bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of function of any bodily member or organ) to just “bodily injury” defined as impairment of a physical condition or substantial pain.  The new law will also include serious physical neglect which would include serious and repeated failure to supervise a child or failing to provide a child with essentials such as food, shelter and medical care.  It also expands the definition for sexual exploitation of children, and alters the definition of child abuse.  Under the current law, an act or failure to act can be child abuse, but only if it creates an imminent risk of serious bodily injury to the child.  Under the new proposed law, the word imminent would be replaced with “substantial and unjustifiable”, and serious bodily injury is replaced with just “bodily injury”.

House Bill 321 will amend the Crimes Code definition of child abuse and provides a sentencing enhancement for those convicted of possession of child pornography.  The new law directs the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to adopt a sentencing enhancement for aggravating circumstances such as the age of the child, the number of images possessed by the defendant, and the nature of abuse depicted in the images.

House Bill 414 makes a minor amendment to the factors a court must consider when awarding custody to include whether the individual has a past or present history of child abuse.

More information on these bills can be found on the legislature’s website: 726,  321, and 414.