By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Tuesday, the Alabama House unanimously approved a measure, House Bill 301, sponsored by Rep. Dickie Drake (R) from Leeds that is designed to combat child abuse and neglect by broadening the groups and professions that are legally required to report suspected cases to authorities.
This legislation also creates a new punishment for employers who discipline or penalize a worker for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect.
Rep. Drake “Few actions are as offensive as abusing a child, violating their trust or failing to provide the very basic needs that parents, guardians and other adults are required to give. In order to protect the most precious and vulnerable lives among us, child abuse or neglect must be reported anytime it is even remotely suspected, and this bill requires just that.”
Rep. Drake’s bill would expand the professions with mandatory child abuse reporting requirements to include physical therapists and employees of public or private postsecondary or higher education institutions. HB 301 also clarifies that all employees, teachers and officials of both public and private K – 12 schools have to report suspected cases of child abuse and can not be prevented from carrying out their legal obligations by their employer.
Drake’s bill implements a new Class C misdemeanor punishment to protect a public or private employee from being fired or otherwise punished by their employer for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect. A Class C misdemeanor is punishable by a fine and/or a sentence of up to three months in a city or county jail. The penalty for not reporting child abuse is a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.
Drake said that teachers, doctors, physical therapists, professors, and coaches who witnesses child abuse must report what they know directly to the police. Reporting it to the principal or a supervisor is insufficient. In the Penn State example, both the assistant coach who witnessed Jerry Sandusky raping the boy and Coach Paterno would be legally obligated to report their suspicions to the police. Turning it over to their supervisor would not be sufficient to meet the reporting requirements under Alabama law.
Under this bill employers can not solely fire someone for reporting child abuse.
The Alabama House passed HB 301 97 to 0. It now goes on to the state Senate.