Pa Governor Rendell Signs Bills to Protect Children, Aid Victims of Sexual Assault and Toughen Penalties for Sex Offenders

November 29, 2006

Harrisburg, Pa., Nov. 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell today signed into law four measures that will help protect Pennsylvania citizens - particularly children - from sex offenders, as well as aid police and prosecutors in their efforts to put such offenders behind bars.

"Today is an extraordinary day for victims of sexual assault in Pennsylvania and especially for the youngest victims," Governor Rendell said while signing a bill which establishes tough mandatory sentences for those who sexually assault children. The measure is known as Jessica's Law, named after a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped and murdered by a convicted sex offender.

"We are strengthening the Endangering the Welfare of Children statute, closing loopholes in the child abuse reporting law and dramatically extending the period of time during which we can prosecute sexual offenders who victimize children," Governor Rendell said. "It is past time that the criminals who commit these despicable acts receive the severe punishment they deserve."

Currently, the average sentence for someone convicted of raping a child is only six years behind bars. Under Jessica's Law, the minimum sentence for such a crime would be 10 years in prison. Repeat offenders could face a life prison term.

Governor Rendell also noted the significance of another bill he signed which standardizes the rape kits that hospitals use to gather evidence from victims of sexual assault.

"The collection of evidence in sexual assault cases is essential to identifying and prosecuting the offender," Governor Rendell said. "Rape cases are some of the most difficult cases to prosecute, but this new law will ensure that hospitals gather the kind of evidence that will secure solid convictions."
    Major provisions of the bills are as follows:

    Senate Bill 1054:
     -- Extends the criminal statute of limitations for prosecution of sex
        crimes against children to the date when the victim reaches 50 years
        of age. Under current law, the limit is age 30.
     -- Requires that those who care for children report suspected abuse,
        regardless of whether the child reports the abuse.
     -- Deletes a requirement in the current child abuse reporting law that
        says that only child abuse committed by a parent, guardian or person
        living in the same home as the child or the child's parent, must be
     -- Makes an employer criminally liable for placing a child in the care of
        someone known to be dangerous to children. Also makes an employer
        criminally liable for preventing or interfering with the reporting of
        suspected child abuse.
     -- Requires a criminal background check for professionals and volunteers
        who have significant contact with children.
     -- Requires additional details about sex offenders to be placed on
        Pennsylvania's Megan's Law Web site, including whether the victim was
        a minor.

    Senate Bill 944 (Pennsylvania's 'Jessica's Law'):
     -- Doubles from five years to 10 years the mandatory minimum sentence for
        rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse or aggravated indecent
        assault of a child.
     -- Provides a mandatory minimum 25-year sentence for anyone twice
        convicted of a Megan's Law crime, and a mandatory life sentence upon a
        third conviction.
     -- Increases the penalty for convicted sex offenders who fail to comply
        with Megan's Law.

    Senate Bill 439:
     -- Standardizes hospital rape kits statewide to enhance evidence
        collection and prosecution.

    Senate Bill 669:
     -- Establishes a system of interpreters in the court and administrative
        agencies so that those who speak little or no English can be heard in
        criminal, civil and family law matters.

"A fair and just legal system requires that all who testify must be able to clearly understand the questions posed to them, and the judge and jury must be able to understand their answers," Governor Rendell said. "We must assure that those who speak limited English are not shut out of our legal system and receive due process under the law."

Governor Rendell was joined at the bill signing by representatives of the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Victim Advocate, the Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, the Board of Probation and Parole, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence and other child advocacy organizations.

The Rendell Administration is committed to creating a first-rate public education system, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and continuing economic investment to support our communities and businesses. To find out more about Governor Rendell's initiatives and to sign up for his weekly newsletter, visit his Web site at:

CONTACT: Kate Philips, Pennsylvania Office of the Governor, +1-717-783-1116


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