Senator seeks alternative path to making religious ministers mandatory reporters of child abuse

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TOPEKA — A Kansas senator is hoping to kickstart the process for a slow-moving measure requiring duly ordained ministers of religion to report child abuse and neglect.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, cited a chamber rule Monday allowing a bill or resolution referenced to but not acted upon by a committee to be pulled for consideration by the affirmative vote of 24 senators. The resolution in question is a version of Senate Bill 75, which has languished in committee without action.

If approved by the Legislature, Kansans would have the opportunity to vote on a constitutional amendment requiring clergy be mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect.

“Pursuant to Senate rule 11B, I move the following bill be withdrawn from committee and placed on general orders: SCR1624,” Holland said. “SB75 was introduced in January 2021, referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee and never received a hearing.”

If Kansans approve the amendment, ordained ministers will join the list of mandated reporters of suspected harm from physical, mental or emotional abuse or neglect of a child. A minister would not be required to violate penitential privilege should they learn of abuse via those channels.

The Department of Children and Families estimated the new requirement would increase caseload by about 2%, enough to require two additional staff positions. These new protection specialist positions would require $128,084 from the state coffers.

A group of survivors of child abuse gathered at the Statehouse in Topeka in late March to renew these calls and reinforce the benefits for mental wellness this measure could provide Kansans. Holland and other advocates have previously proposed similar legislation, including in 2019.

Senators will vote whether to support the motion and consider the resolution in earnest Tuesday. 

“It’s political grandstanding on his side,” said Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican. “I appreciate a ‘no’ vote tomorrow.”

Senate Bill 420, another measure dealing with child abuse, has also yet to receive a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill would eliminate the statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits seeking damages for childhood sexual abuse.

“We must not put an expiration date on justice. We must not put an expiration date on protecting our children from violent sexual predators,” said Chris Mann, a Democrat campaigning for Kansas attorney general, during a March press conference on the measure. “This type of crime can rock a family to its core and rob survivors of their future. We cannot turn a blind eye just because it happened too far in the past.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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