Harrisburg, Pa. – House Bill 156 and a currently-unnamed piece of legislation for the protection of abuse victims will soon be submitted to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for consideration.
HB 156, authored by Rep. Clint Owlett (R - Tioga/Bradford/Potter) may increase the eligibility for child victims to be covered by the Tender Years Hearsay Act, while an upcoming bill from Rep. Scott Conklin (D - Centre) would require those under Protection from Abuse orders in connection with a domestic violence case to wear an electronic monitoring device.
The Tender Years Hearsay Act allows statements concerning violent or sexual offenses against children to be presented by a representative based on hearsay from the child. Under current laws, the victim must be age 12 or younger. Owlett's bill would increase the maximum age to 16. Allowing the statements would remain at the judge’s discretion.
“It is in everyone’s best interest to ensure justice is served in all cases, but especially those involving our children,” Rep. Owlett said. “First and foremost, we need to support the children who have been victimized by allowing them to testify without the undue stress of appearing in court with their offender. If we help them with testifying, we have a better chance of ensuring the offender is taken off our streets where he or she cannot harm other youths in our communities.”
Sexual assault survivors, especially children, are often afraid to report their assaults. Child victims who choose to testify are usually forced to repeatedly describe the terrible details of their assault in front of a jury, the media, and the offender during lengthy cross examinations. The Tender Years Hearsay Act allows a psychologist, a Children and Youth Services investigator, or other eligible individual to testify on behalf of a child.
“This issue was brought to my attention by a local constituent, and I’m proud to have the opportunity to advocate for its passage to help child victims and their families,” Rep. Owlett said.
The bill has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee and now heads to the House for full consideration. A similar measure was approved by the House last session but was not taken up by the full Senate before the session ended at the end of November.
Rep. Conklin's bill requiring domestic violence suspects under Protection from Abuse orders to wear a monitoring device is based on a common law in other parts of the country. Nearly half of U.S. states allow electronic monitoring in such cases, and Rep. Conklin believes that it is time for Pennsylvania to join those states.
“Almost 11 years ago, Traci Ann Raymond Miscavish, a dear family friend of mine, was murdered by her estranged husband at her workplace, who she had filed a PFA order against,” Rep. Conklin said. “She had previously expressed her fear of him, notably because he had firearms and had repeatedly threatened to murder her. Had he been ordered to wear a GPS monitoring device when the PFA order became final, she might be alive today. Study after study has shown that the presence of a firearm increases the likelihood of a domestic violence situation turning deadly, and my measure, once signed into law, will indeed save more lives.”
Rep. Conklin added that while Act 79, passed in 2018, requires a person who is under an active PFA order to turn over their firearms to local law enforcement within 24 hours of conviction, it still does not reduce the threat of additional violence.
More information about Rep. Conklin's upcoming bill is available here.