Judiciary Committee Update

Over the past two weeks, Judiciary has heard testimony related to the Child Protection Bill, S.9. We have focused on adjusting language related to the responsibilities of Mandated Reporters to report to the Department of Children and Families. On one hand, we want to require timely reporting of suspicions of abuse and neglect of a child, but on the other, we want to avoid requirements that are too far-reaching. If the language requiring reporting is too broad, Mandated Reporters could flood DCF with calls to avoid potential prosecution or penalties for failing to report. Such a result would make it far more difficult for DCF to focus on those cases that present clear risks of harm to children. In the end, Judiciary and most witnesses concluded that getting the balance correct will depend less on the precision of the language crafted for the law than on appropriate and continued training of Mandated Reporters.

In its considerations of S.9, Judiciary also has sought the correct balance between reliance on the criminal justice and the child protection systems. The question that has hung over this bill from its introduction in the Senate is whether the legislature should emphasize punishing and deterring behavior that harms children, or emphasize education, treatment, and other services to avoid the harm in the first place. The bill as passed by the Senate emphasized the former, creating a 10-year felony for failure to protect a child. House Health and Human Services shifted the emphasis to the child protection system, eliminating the failure-to-protect felony from the bill and instead increasing the penalties of certain existing crimes. Judiciary has continued the shift away from reliance on punishing caregivers when something goes wrong. It is currently considering eliminating from the bill some or all of the increased criminal penalties that Health and Human Services added. Judiciary anticipates having a vote on the bill early in the coming week.

Judiciary has also taken testimony on S.102, which provides for forfeiture of property associated with certain regulated drug possession, sale, and trafficking violations and with dog fighting. The bill provides two avenues for the State to seek forfeiture of such property, one allowing forfeiture post-conviction and the second allowing pre-conviction forfeiture in certain limited circumstances. Testimony seems to be building to the conclusion that Judiciary should strike from the bill the second avenue that permits forfeiture without requiring a conviction. In addition, the Committee is considering whether the proceeds from forfeiture should, in part, go to law enforcement or whether all proceeds should go to the General Fund. We have heard testimony that allowing proceeds from forfeiture to go to law enforcement would act as an incentive for law enforcement to focus too many resources on those crimes that allow for forfeiture.

In the coming week, House Judiciary will also address amendments from the Senate to two House bills: H.120, which creates a state False Claims Act, and H.105, which criminalizes the nonconsensual distribution of explicit photos or videos.