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Kauffman Bill Aimed at Greater Protection of PA Youth Becomes Law
6/29/2017
HARRISBURG – Today, the governor signed into law legislation, authored by Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin), that will place stronger penalties on individuals who endanger children in their care. The legislation was drafted following the tragic death of a young child in Franklin County.

The new law will better ensure that parents, guardians or those charged with the care of a child will face harsher penalties in cases of child endangerment if the child is under the age of 6, if the endangerment results in serious injury or death, or if the endangerment is part of a continuing course of conduct.

“Caring for a young child is a great responsibility. Too often we have seen situations where caregivers have neglected a child or failed to provide proper oversight and it has resulted in tragic situations.” said Kauffman. “This new law will enable law enforcement to hold those individuals accountable for their actions. I am hopeful these harsher penalties will cause caregivers to take their duties and commitments more seriously so we can avoid the type of tragedy that struck a Franklin County family.”

The Franklin County case that was the catalyst for the legislation took place in 2010 when an 11-month-old boy, Heath Ryder, was killed by a 9-year-old girl while in the care of an adult caregiver. The girl was left unsupervised with the infant when the incident occurred. Although the girl was charged and went through the juvenile court system, the adult faced lesser charges, due to limitations in the law at that time.

Kauffman’s comments, given at the bill signing, can be viewed here.

“In all of my years serving as a prosecutor, this case was the most disturbing and greatly impacted me,” said Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal. “Given the state of the law at the time, it is the sole case that I honestly felt the law and the criminal law process did not, and could not, deliver true justice to Heath’s grieving parents. The Ryder Family will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I’m very pleased that their hope that this tragedy would result in a positive legacy for Heath will be fulfilled. I thank the Ryders for their understanding along the way and also for their determination in pursuing this legislation, and Rep. Kauffman’s compassion and commitment to this family.”

Currently, a person who endangers the welfare of a child under the age of 18 can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, and if the conduct is part of a continuing course of conduct, the offense is graded as a third-degree felony.

The new law will make the following changes to the current law:
• An offense will be a third-degree felony if the person’s conduct created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.
• An offense will be a second-degree felony if the person’s conduct created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury and was part of a course of conduct.
• The grading for any offense will be increased one level if the child victim is under the age of 6 at the time of the offense.

“I want to thank District Attorney Matt Fogal for his assistance in developing this legislation, and I especially want to thank the Ryder Family for sharing their story and supporting our efforts to get this legislation signed into law,” said Kauffman. “Pennsylvania’s young people need our protection and this new law will increase their safety and hold those who knowingly fail to protect our children accountable.”

Act 12 of 2017 will take effect in 60 days.

 

Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law legislation authored by Rep. Rob Kauffman that will place stronger penalties on individuals who endanger children in their care. Joining them for the public bill signing were Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal (standing, left); Heath’s parents, Mark and Shelly Ryder (standing, center); Heath’s brother, Aiden (seated at the table); and Heath’s grandmother, Deb Lebeau (standing, right).
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