NO. 43.  AN ACT RELATING TO MANDATORY REPORTING OF SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT.

(S.93)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  LEGISLATIVE INTENT

It is the intent of the General Assembly by this act to add clergy to the list of mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect while balancing the state’s compelling interest in protecting child safety with the important role of religious and spiritual conscience in our society.

Sec. 2.  33 V.S.A. § 4912 is amended to read:

§ 4912.  DEFINITIONS

As used in this subchapter:

* * *

(12)  “Member of the clergy” means a priest, rabbi, clergy member, ordained or licensed minister, leader of any church or religious body, accredited Christian Science practitioner, person performing official duties on behalf of a church or religious body that are recognized as the duties of a priest, rabbi, clergy, nun, brother, ordained or licensed minister, leader of any church or religious body, or accredited Christian Science practitioner.

Sec. 3.  33 V.S.A. § 4913 is amended to read:

§ 4913.  SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT; REMEDIAL

              ACTION

(a)  Any physician, surgeon, osteopath, chiropractor, or physician’s assistant licensed, certified, or registered under the provisions of Title 26, any resident physician, intern, or any hospital administrator in any hospital in this state, whether or not so registered, and any registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, medical examiner, dentist, psychologist, any other health care provider, school superintendent, school teacher, school librarian, day care worker, school principal, school guidance counselor, mental health professional, social worker, probation officer, police officer, camp owner, camp administrator or camp counselor, or member of the clergy who has reasonable cause to believe that any child has been abused or neglected shall report or cause a report to be made in accordance with the provisions of section 4914 of this title within 24 hours.  As used in this subsection, “camp” includes any residential or nonresidential recreational program.

(b)  Any other concerned person not listed in subsection (a) of this section who has reasonable cause to believe that any child has been abused or neglected may report or cause a report to be made in accordance with the provisions of section 4914.

(c)  Any person enumerated in subsections (a) or (b) of this section, other than a person suspected of child abuse, who in good faith makes a report to the department of social and rehabilitation services shall be immune from any civil or criminal liability which might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of making a report.

(d)  The name of the person making the report, or any person mentioned in the report shall be confidential unless the person making the report specifically requests disclosure or unless a judicial proceeding results therefrom or unless a court, after a hearing, finds probable cause to believe that the report was not made in good faith and orders the department to make the name available.

(e)(1)  Any A person who violates subsection (a) of this section shall be fined not more than $500.00.

(2)  A person who violates subsection (a) of this section with the intent to conceal abuse or neglect of a child shall be imprisoned not more than six months or fined not more than $1,000.00, or both.

(3)  This section shall not be construed to prohibit a prosecution under any other provision of law.

(f)  Except as provided in subsection (g) of this section, a person may not refuse to make a report required by this section on the grounds that making the report would violate a privilege or disclose a confidential communication.

(g)  A member of the clergy shall not be required to make a report under this section if the report would be based upon information received in a communication which is:

(1)  made to a member of the clergy acting in his or her capacity as spiritual advisor;

(2)  intended by the parties to be confidential at the time the communication is made;

(3)  intended by the communicant to be an act of contrition or a matter of conscience; and

(4)  required to be confidential by religious law, doctrine, or tenet.   

(h)  When a member of the clergy receives information about abuse or neglect of a child in a manner other than as described in subsection (g) of this section, he or she is required to report on the basis of that information even though he or she may have also received a report of abuse or neglect about the same person or incident in the manner described in subsection (g) of this section.

Sec. 4.  Rule 505 of the Vermont Rules of Evidence is amended to read:

RULE 505.  RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGE

(a)  Definitions.  As used in this rule:

(1)  A “clergyman” is a minister, priest, rabbi, accredited Christian Science Practitioner, or other similar functionary of a religious organization, or an individual reasonably believed so to be by the person consulting him  “Member of the clergy” means a priest, rabbi, clergy member, ordained or licensed minister, leader of any church or religious body, accredited Christian Science practitioner, person performing official duties on behalf of a church or religious body that are recognized as the duties of a priest, rabbi, clergy, nun, brother, ordained or licensed minister, leader of any church or religious body, or accredited Christian Science practitioner.

(2)  A communications is “confidential” if made privately and not intended for further disclosure except to other persons present in furtherance of the purpose of the communication.

(b)  General rule of privilege.  A person has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent another from disclosing a confidential communication by the person to a clergyman member of the clergy in his or her professional character as spiritual adviser. 

(c)  Who may claim the privilege.  The privilege may be claimed by the person communicant, by his or her guardian or conservator, or by his or her personal representative if he such person is deceased.  The person who was the clergyman member of the clergy at the time of the communication is presumed to have authority to claim the privilege, but only on behalf of the communicant.

Sec. 5.  REPORT

(a)  The department of social and rehabilitation services (SRS) shall develop model protocols and a comprehensive and uniform program of information, education, and training for mandatory reporters.  The program shall include elements designed for use in organizations whose staff includes some personnel who are mandatory reporters and others who are not.

(b)  On or before January 15, 2004, SRS shall report to the general assembly on the protocols and programs developed pursuant to subsection (a) of this section.  The report shall include a proposal for implementation of an improved statewide training program to effectively and frequently reach all mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect.

Sec. 6.  EFFECTIVE DATE

This act shall take effect upon passage.

Approved:  May 27, 2003