By Daniel Stefanski |
Both Republicans and Democrats came together this week at the state legislature to enhance protections for Arizona’s children.
The Arizona House overwhelmingly passed HB 2516, which deals with investigations into child abuse cases. 56 legislators voted to send the bill to the Senate against zero detractors. Four House members did not vote.
The full House vote follows two unanimous votes to free the legislation from committees. On February 1, the House Judiciary Committee voted 8-0 to approve the bill, and likewise with the House Rules Committee on February 13.
According to the overview of the bill provided by the Arizona House of Representatives, HB 2516 “adds a forensic interview as an alternative examination method for a child taken into temporary custody due to exigent circumstances involving sexual abuse or serious physical injury.” (“Exigent circumstances exist if there is probable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer serious harm in the time it would take to obtain a court order for removal and either of the following is true: 1) There is no less intrusive alternative to taking temporary custody of the child that would reasonably and sufficiently protect the child’s health or safety; or 2) Probable cause exists to believe that the child is a victim of sexual abuse or abuse involving serious physical injury that can be diagnosed only by an appropriately licensed physician or health care provider.”)
Representative Parker’s bill “authorizes a person who takes temporary custody of a child due to exigent circumstances involving sexual abuse or serious physical injury to immediately have the child forensically interviewed by a person who is appropriately trained pursuant to statutory protocols, as an alternative to a medical examination.” Currently, “unless the examination (by an appropriately licensed physician or health care provider) reveals abuse, the person must release the child into the custody of the parent of guardian.”
The bill also “changes the definition of a reportable offense by replacing an Arizona statute, which criminalizes providing harmful items to minors by electronic means with another statute, which criminalizes providing harmful items to minors by non-electronic means.”
In an exclusive interview with AZ Free News, Representative Parker explained why she introduced this bill:
“HB 2516 is an example of how important language and wording are in the law. ARS 8-821 was an example of the ‘cart before the horse’ regarding children whom agencies received after a report of child abuse. Well-intentioned laws, not carefully updated, can lead to ambiguity in interpretation. Therefore, bringing the statute into compliance with current professional procedure manuals was paramount. Experienced and trained professionals must first talk to the child in an important forensic interview to determine the appropriate next step.”
Rebecca Baker, Legislative Liaison for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO), represented the Office in supporting this legislation before the full House vote.
HB 2516 now makes its way to the Arizona Senate chamber – one step closer to a potential signature into law from Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.