Pa. Sen. Baker-led committee passes bills to protect children, assault victims

Child abuse. Measures passed include Kayden’s Law, statute of limitations reform for child sexual abuse, and enhancing the penalties for child pornography.

| 27 Jan 2021 | 02:12

Seven-year-old Kayden Mancuso was bludgeoned to death by her father, Jeffery Mancuso, on Aug. 6, 2018, only a few months after Mancuso was awarded partial, unsupervised custody pursuant to a court order entered on May 21, 2018.

“Dogs have more rights than children,” said her aunt.

Kayden’s death was not the first, nor the last, to occur at the hands of a parent where warning signs were present. Her death spurred the introduction of “Kayden’s Law” to protect children who are the subject of custody disputes.

The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by PA Senator Lisa Baker (R-20), passed Kayden’s Law along with legislation to reform the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases and enhance penalties for child pornography. This was done during the senate’s first meeting of the 2021-22 legislative session.

Child pornography

Senate Bill 87, introduced by the late Senator Dave Arnold (R-48) and Senator Baker, enhances the penalties for child pornography, while also establishing the Task Force on Child Pornography. A similar version of this bill was unanimously passed by the Senate in October, but was unable to reach the finish line before the end of the legislative session.

“With the recent passing of Senator Arnold after his courageous battle with cancer, I wanted this bill to receive swift consideration,” Baker said. “I am hopeful that we can continue to work to further his legacy of fighting for his community, his constituents, and our children.”

Statute of limitations

Senator Baker also prioritized Senate Bill 8 to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution by creating a two-year window for victims of sexual abuse to bring civil claims against their abusers.

Baker concluded that an amendment to the state Constitution, passed by both the Senate and the House in consecutive sessions, and then approved by the voters, would be required. The measure was already approved by bothchambers once. If passed this session, the proposal would appear on the ballot for consideration.

“As supporters and opponents alike realize, if we do not act on a measure identical to the one approved last session, it sets the clock back at least two years,” Baker said. “Victims bitterly disappointed over previous failures to achieve justice would see their hopes delayed once more. By giving second round approval, we submit this crucial question to the court of voter decision allowing the public to render a powerful judgement on right and wrong.”

Custody reform

Senate Bill 78, sponsored by Senator Steve Santarserio (D-10) and Senator Baker, establishes a procedure for handling custody proceedings that helps to better protect children. Factors Kayden’s father’s past, if properly considered, might have led to safeguards that could have helped to protect the child.

“Our current state law failed to ensure the health and safety of Kayden, which was a heartbreaking tragedy, but, unfortunately, not unique,” Baker said. “This bill requires a court to consider certain critical factors to ensure that the health and safety of children are weighed before custody of a child is awarded.”

Domestic violence and human trafficking

Senate Bill 81 sponsored by Senator Wayne Langerholc (R-35), amends the Judicial Code by expanding the list of sexual offenses in which an expert can testify in cases of domestic violence and human trafficking.

“These types of expert witnesses have been crucial to helping jurors understand the tremendous trauma that a sexual assault can have on a victim and how that trauma can affect their behaviors and their overall health,” Baker said.