Funding loss proposed for sex abuse cover-ups
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WASHINGTON -- So far, the Penn State University sex abuse scandal has cost university leaders their jobs and the institution its reputation. The next price Penn State pays could be in dollars.
If one congresswoman has her way, institutions like Penn State could lose federal funding if it's determined there was a cover-up of child sex abuse. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, is expected to introduce the bill this week.
She said the loss of funding is meant as a punishment for failing to meet moral and legal duties to protect children. It would not affect scholarships or federal grants to individual students.
At least two Pennsylvania congressmen think that's a bad idea.
"We've always looked up to the people at Penn State for strong leadership and it's apparent that people in leadership positions chose not to handle this as aggressively as they should have. Maybe we put too much faith and trust in them," said Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler. But, he said, that doesn't mean everyone at the university should suffer for horrific crimes and mistakes that they had no part in.
"This [legislation] doesn't look like something I can jump on," he said in an interview outside the House chamber Tuesday.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, agreed.
"Penn State is trying to recover from this thing. The whole place is struggling. The last thing they need is" the threat of federal funding being blocked, he said. Any punishment and liability will be assessed through the judicial system, he said.
Eight victims have come forward to say they were sexually abused by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. A grand jury presentment stated that Mr. Sandusky befriended them through Second Mile, a nonprofit he started ostensibly to help troubled boys from dysfunctional families. According to the presentment, university officials knew of the abuse but didn't report it to law enforcement authorities.
Mr. Murphy and Mr. Kelly said the entire university and its 94,000 students should not have to pay a price for the actions -- or lack thereof -- by a few.
Ms. Jackson Lee, founder of the congressional children's caucus, said her legislation is a call for accountability.
"This was an institutionalized problem that allowed this man to take advantage of children -- needy children who went to this nonprofit program for fulfillment in life," she said. "The institution has to set the priorities and then it won't find itself in that position" of losing funding.
Penn State spokeswomen did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment or for information about the amount of the school's federal funding. However, data on the school's website indicates that university received $20 million this year to fund agriculture programs, and the student newspaper recently reported that 80 percent of research dollars come from federal sources.
Ms. Jackson Lee said her legislation is not aimed at Penn State, but the scandal there -- along with a recent news report of the suicide of a Texas girl who had been the victim of sexual abuse -- inspired it.
"We need to send a message that the federal government has a zero-tolerance policy. We will not tolerate child sex abuse."
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., urged his chamber's Subcommittee on Children and Families to hold a hearing to review the relationship between federal and state laws requiring witnesses to report abuse and neglect. Currently, only 18 states require adults to report suspected child abuse, and Pennsylvania is not one of them, Mr. Casey said.
"The tragic events reported from Penn State have been a shock to the nation's conscience. It is clear we need to examine the federal laws that are designed to protect children from this type of heinous abuse," he said.
A spokeswoman for subcommittee chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said the board is expected to discuss details of a possible hearing.
First Published November 16, 2011 12:00 am