Clergy abuse reporting bill passes House

Posted: Friday, April 25, 2003

JUNEAU (AP) The state House approved a bill Friday requiring clergy members to report child abuse or neglect, although some representatives expressed concern the bill erodes the wall between church and state.

The measure would add clergy to the list of people including doctors and teachers who are required to tell state authorities if they suspect abuse or neglect.

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, introduced the bill in response to media reports of churches failing to address sexual abuse by clergy.

Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, said he does not believe abuse should be tolerated, but he fears making clergy report any suspicions could put a barrier between them and their communities.

If somebody thought I was coming in to help them and I was a mandatory reporter, they might not confide in me,'' Coghill said.

He said he's also not confident that government authorities are always better than church authorities at dealing with abuse and neglect.

Supporters of the House Bill 92, however, argued the damage from abuse is so great that it's better to err on the side of protecting children.

I think all of us need to be aware we're talking about children whose lives are forever changed,'' said Rep. Cheryll Heinze, R-Anchorage. They're injured psychologically for life.''

Proposed amendments on Thursday to exempt clergy from reporting neglect and to broaden the exception for when communications could be kept private failed.

The bill passed the House 32-6. Opposing it were Reps. Tom Anderson, R-Anchorage; Coghill; Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks; Pete Kott, R-Eagle River; Paul Seaton, R-Homer; and Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau.

Under a procedural move, the bill could be brought up for a final vote on Monday. If approved again, it then goes to the Senate for consideration.

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