Penn State scandal prompts new laws in Louisiana

Published: Aug. 7, 2012 at 1:43 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 21, 2012 at 2:07 AM CDT
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River Ridge, La. - The child sex abuse scandal at Penn State has prompted Louisiana legislators to tighten up laws and add a few more to the books.  Among the changes: Coaches are now on the list of "mandatory reporters" of child abuse.

Monday was the first day of football practice for the John Curtis Patriots.  Coach J.T. Curtis, like many coaches, will spend hours a day with his team.

"Really we are a second parent," explains Curtis.

And now coaches take on another role.  Coaches have been added to the list of mandatory reporters of any type of child abuse.  It's a role Coach Curtis says should already apply.

"Just from the moral standpoint... Regardless of your religious beliefs, you have a responsibility to take care of young people that can't protect themselves," says Curtis.

The new state law adding coaches to the list was sponsored by state Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans).  He states, "There is a glaring example in Pennsylvania of a coach not reporting such abuse.  We must do everything that we can to ensure the safety and security of our children..."

There are at least two other related Louisiana laws that took effect this year.  It is now a felony to witness the sexual abuse of a child and not report it.  Also, there is now "whistleblower protection" for anyone who reports child abuse.

Had such laws been in place in Pennsylvania, then-Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary would be facing felony charges.  He claims he witnessed the sexual abuse of a child, but didn't report it to police.

On the other hand, had McQueary reported the abuse to police, whistleblower protection would have kept him from putting his position at risk for exposing the abuse on campus.

Coach J.T. Curtis says, while he doesn't believe these new laws will make a significant difference in the actions of mandatory reporters, he says they may encourage people in those roles to look even closer for signs of abuse.

"I think it might raise awareness and make us a little more cognizant of the fact that we have a responsibility and that our responsibility is to protect children," said Curtis.

In a revised law, mandatory reporters such as teachers, coaches and anyone who provides services to a child in a voluntary or professional capacity are now considered mandatory reporters on and off the job.

The change has kept Stacie LeBlanc very busy.  She is the executive director of the New Orleans Children's Advocacy Center.  She's traveling to schools and different agencies to let people know how the changes will affect them, talking "about these huge additional burdens put on mandatory reporters which requires them to report abuse beyond just their professional capacity," explains LeBlanc.

She says the biggest concern she's hearing from mandatory reporters is how they should handle reporting situations in public.

Failure to report sexual abuse by a mandatory reporter, whether on or off the job, is now a felony in Louisiana.