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House OKs Bill On Abuse Reports

Would require clergy to notify authorities

Apr 9, 2003 | Birmingham News

The Alabama House of Representatives voted Tuesday to require clergy to report suspected child abuse to authorities just as teachers and doctors must do.

The legislation exempts confession and other "confidential communications" between members and clergy. House members approved the bill 92-2. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

"If there is abuse, and someone knows about it, they should be required to report it just as other professionals are required to report it," said Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, the sponsor of the bill.

Some legislators worried the government was thrusting itself into the pulpit, even if they thought Boothe's legislation had a noble purpose.

"I'm concerned we're stepping into an area we generally leave sacrosanct," said Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville.

Rep. Greg Albritton, R-Excel, tried unsuccessfully to limit the bill to paid, full-time clergy members. "If you're talking about criminal charges, I don't want volunteers," Albritton said.

Some legislators referred to recent accusations of Catholic priests abusing children as reason to vote for the bill. McLaughlin and Albritton were the only members who voted against it.

Professionals and organizations already required to report suspected abuse are hospitals, clinics, sanitariums, doctors, physicians, surgeons, medical examiners, coroners, dentists, osteopaths, optometrists, chiropractors, podiatrists, nurses, school teachers, school officials, peace officers, law enforcement officials, pharmacists, social workers, day-care workers and employees, mental health professionals and any other person called upon to render aid or assistance to a child.

The legislation relies on the definition of clergy in the Alabama Rules of Evidence as any "duly ordained, licensed, or commissioned minister, pastor, priest, rabbi, or practitioner or any bona fide established church or religious organization."

The definition includes "any person who regularly as a vocation devotes a substantial portion of his or her time and abilities to the services of his or her church or religious organization."

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