State Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-18) has introduced a legislative package that includes several bills focused on child protection, her office announced Jan. 8.
“Children are our most precious resource,” Boscola said in a statement about the bills. “We owe them our love, support and every legal protection available.”
Among the proposed legislation is a bill that would limit where sex offenders registered under Megan's Law can live.
Specifically, under Boscola’s proposal registered sex offenders would be prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of a school, preschool, daycare facility or public playground, and from within 500 feet of a school bus stop.
The subject of sex offenders living near school bus stops became a hot topic in the Saucon Valley School District in 2011, when the district relocated a hillside bus stop from Moravia Street, Lower Saucon Township, to an intersection at a lower elevation in Bethlehem several blocks away.
Although the district said the new location was a safer alternative in the winter, some parents objected to it and claimed that it would force their children to enter into closer proximity to a registered sex offender living in the area.
Parent Paula Steuer, who campaigned against the relocated bus stop, began a petition and collected 200 signatures against the bus stop's relocation, which she told the Saucon Valley School Board amounted to a "moral issue."
If Boscola's recently-proposed bill passes, it would become a legal issue.
Nevertheless, Steuer said she thinks the proposed 500-foot prohibition "is not enough, when all other congregated areas for children are 1000 feet."
Although she called the idea of keeping registered sex offenders from living anywhere near a school bus stop a "no-brainer," Steuer said more needs to be done to protect children by legislators, school districts and parents.
"I think it's concerning why more parents aren't coming forward concerning this topic," she said. "They need to check their child's bus stop and see how many convicted sex offenders live close."
In addition to Boscola, State Rep. Justin Simmons (R-131) has endorsed the idea of legislative action aimed at keeping registered sex offenders and schoolchildren apart.
In October 2011, after the Saucon Valley controversy erupted, Simmons recommended an amendment to the Public School Code that would require the Department of Transportation to account for the presence of registered sex offender residences along walking routes used by children to get to a bus stop.
Among the other child protection-focused bills recently proposed by Boscola are the following:
- Increased penalties for drug delivery and forfeiture of public pensions. This bill would toughen penalties against school employees who possess or deliver drugs on school property. Boscola’s proposal, which she said was prompted by incidents in Northampton County, would add two years to any jail sentence imposed on school administrators, teachers or employees convicted of drug possession or delivery on school property. A companion bill would require that employee’s pension to be forfeited.
- Forfeiture of parental rights. Parental rights would be terminated if a parent is found guilty of committing certain violent offenses in their home when the victim is another child in the home or the other parent.
- Removal of statute of limitations. The statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases in both criminal and civil cases would be removed. "Far too often, those who are sexually abused as minors go decades before seeking justice for the abuse they suffered as children," Boscola said.
- Chronic runaway child program. The Department of Public Welfare would be directed to develop specific assessment/counseling plans for chronic runaways as part of county shelter care, custody and detention.
In her statement about the legislative package of bills, Boscola added that she hopes the recent media focus on crimes against children brought about by the Jerry Sandusky scandal will put proposals aimed at strengthening child protection laws at the top of the legislative agenda in Harrisburg this year.
"We must do more to protect our children," she said. "With a new legislative session underway, I will press my legislative colleagues to prioritize bills that would ensure our children have a safe environment to grow and learn."