×

Experts needed to assess bill on child porn

It is hard to disagree with a bill in the Pennsylvania Senate aimed at toughening penalties for individuals possessing child pornography.

But an amendment to that measure — Senate Bill 1075 — needs more discussion and, more importantly, strong assurances that it represents something substantive, not just weak window dressing to what otherwise is a worthy initiative.

Unfortunately, the proposed makeup of what the amendment encompasses risks undermining the relevance intended and otherwise possible.

That said, the conclusion at this time must be that the Legislature has more work to do before the bill reaches the junctures of being ready for final House and Senate votes and a gubernatorial signature. That means the measure might have to be reintroduced in the new legislative session beginning in the aftermath of the November general election and begin anew the trek through the legislative process.

The consideration of the measure up to now would seem to be important groundwork for the successor bill to have a smoother path to enactment, hopefully next year — assuming, of course, that nothing occurs to derail what the amended SB 1075 would seek to accomplish.

The amendment in question that needs considerable future discussion involves creation of a 16-member state child sexual abuse prevention task force — a panel worthy of being implemented and given wide support.

But here is the point of concern: As proposed, the task force would be composed of Cabinet members, lawmakers and professionals. In fact, most members of the task force should be the best professionals that can be attracted for panel service, not lawmakers and cabinet members who would have many more unrelated things competing for their time.

It is not unreasonable to believe that most lawmakers lack the broad insight into all aspects of the child pornography issue that needs to be present for the task force to make the most meaningful impact.

Yes, there should be legislative and executive branch representation, but that representation, combined, should not be of a size that dilutes what the professionals involved would be able to contribute to the important task of fighting the child pornography problem to the fullest extent possible.

However, necessary to be emphasized is the point that the task force is not the most important element of the “new 1075.” It is the toughening of penalties for possession of such despicable materials — materials that Sen. Dave Arnold, R-Lebanon, SB 1075’s sponsor, rightly characterized as a product of child abuse.

“It’s time the law puts more onus on individuals viewing these images,” Arnold said of his bill, which would increase penalties when someone convicted of child pornography has images depicting a child under age 10, rather than being limited to images of children under age 6.

Also under what Arnold is proposing, the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing would be directed to provide guidelines in cases where the child depicted is known to the defendant.

Commendably, the state Senate Judiciary Committee approved unanimously the amended SB 1075, which, besides upping penalties for child pornography possession, would require the proposed task force to issue an annual report.

The annual report is likely to be most meaningful if a strong contingent of professionals serving on the task force is allowed to take the lead in preparing it. At this late date in the current legislative session, setting the stage for that to ultimately happen must not be subjected to procrastination.

NEWSLETTER

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
   

COMMENTS

Starting at $4.39/week.

Subscribe Today