A bill to criminalize a failure to report child abuse if a mandatory reporter has actual knowledge cleared the Maryland Senate and was before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, where its crossfile has sat without a vote since its hearing in February.
Senate Bill 132 makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine to knowingly fail to report child abuse and neglect that occurs while the child is still a minor. It applies to health care practitioners, police officers, educators and human service workers who have reason to believe a child has been abused.
The bill passed the Senate 46-0.
The cross-filed House Bill 500 faced opposition at its hearing, with delegates concerned about establishing a crime so soon after a 2016 bill that allowed for the possible termination of a professional license held by the reporter for failing to disclose possible abuse.
Attorney and former social worker Megan A. Benevento said Tuesday she represents victims in litigation against schools where employees ignored red flags of abuse.
“The parents want something done and under the current laws that we have available… they are not getting relief and justice,” said Benevento, of Joseph Greenwald & Laake P.A. in Greenbelt. “They want the people that knew this abuse was occurring to be held accountable.”
As a former mandatory reporter herself, Benevento said the “calculus in whether or not you pick up the phone is a tough one” but added that people currently still lean toward not intervening, and the law would change that.
Joyce Lombardi, director of government relations and legal services for the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, said she researched questions raised by delegates, particularly about these laws in other states, and found the typical knowledge level is reasonable suspicion rather than the more stringent actual knowledge in Maryland’s legislation.
Lombardi also said the laws are “used sparingly” and only in severe cases.