Tension over proposed amendment to governor's bill

JUNEAU — Alaska lawmakers are debating whether volunteers should be subject to criminal penalties if they fail to report suspected child abuse.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s crime bill, HB73 in the House and SB22 in the Senate, stipulates that volunteer or paid athletic coaches are required to report if they have a reasonable suspicion that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee introduced amendments to the bill for the first time, one of which would remove volunteers from the list of those subject to mandatory reporting.

Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, proposed the amendment. He said Friday that he believes volunteers who have not had professional training to look for signs of abuse should not face the threat of legal penalties.

“This is not talking about potential perpetrators. This is talking about reporting,” Dyson said Friday, when the issue was also discussed. “Once you expand that to volunteers, who have not had the professional training — they may be great soccer players and so on and so forth — but has no idea of what to look for, signs of abuse, then you’re putting them subject to legal penalties for things that they are very poorly trained for.”

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, said she “vehemently” disagreed with the amendment, adding that volunteers have a moral obligation to report suspected abuse.

“It is my belief that both of those classes of human beings should rightfully be added,” McGuire said. “Often it is the coaches and the volunteers that are right there on the front lines.”

She said she doesn’t expect the state would prosecute a volunteer who saw signs of abuse and failed to report them, but she wants volunteers put on notice about their moral responsibility.

During Friday’s deliberation, McGuire said she believed the provision wasn’t broad enough and wanted it to encompass more people who deal with kids, including nonprofits and boys’ and girls’ clubs.

“My concern would be if we don’t catch all, that there could be some kind of athletic organization that’s springs up under a loophole that a parent would send their child to unwittingly, not understanding that that might be a place for predation,” McGuire said.

The amendment was held until Friday for further discussion, but McGuire noted she will be absent from the committee then.

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