U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (PA-07) today joined Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-08) at a field hearing in Philadelphia to examine the issue of confidentiality agreements among schools and child sex abusers that result in the abuse going unnoticed and unpunished. The hearing was chaired by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-05), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
Reps. Fitzpatrick and Meehan introduced H.R. 3766, the Jeremy Bell Act at the end of last year. This legislation would hold child abusers -- and those who assist them by remaining silent -- accountable for their actions.
The members heard moving testimony from the families of victims of child abuse, as well as from representatives from the state and community advocates.
The legislation is named for Jeremy Bell, a 12-year old West Virginia student who was sexually abused and murdered by his principal in 1997. The principal, Edgar Friedrichs, was hired in West Virginia after being fired in Pennsylvania due to allegations of sexual misconduct with students. The West Virginia school district was not aware of the allegations at the time it hired Friedrichs, and received letters of recommendation from his former employer.
The hearing was convened to shine a light on victims of child abuse and their families. The Jeremy Bell Act would help prevent cover-ups at public and private schools by imposing fines or imprisonment for employers who direct, cause, persuade, induce, or entice the travel of a school employee in one state with the purpose of facilitating their employment in another state, if the employer knows that the employee engaged in sexual conduct with a minor. The legislation will require schools to submit information regarding the cessation of employment -- if such termination involved allegations of sexual conduct with a minor -- into a national clearinghouse that can be accessed by schools in other states. Further, the bill will require information regarding sexual conduct between school employee and minors to be turned over to law enforcement.
Opening Statement of Rep. Meehan
(as prepared for delivery)
Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you Congressman Fitzpatrick for your efforts and leadership on this issue.
I am very grateful that Chairman Sensenbrenner has joined us today. He has been a tireless advocate for children and victims of abuse throughout his entire career, and was instrumental in passing our nation's most significant federal laws to protect children: the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, and the PROTECT Act, which helped establish the nationwide Amber Alert system.
I'd also like to express my deep appreciation for Congressman Fitzpatrick's leadership on introducing the Jeremy Bell Act -- landmark legislation that will continue the legacy of child protection that began with Adam Walsh and Amber Alerts. I am honored to be an original cosponsor of the bill; particularly because it gives us the opportunity to convene today's hearing, and shed light on the urgent matter of confidentiality agreements.
We're here today to address a problem that has gone largely unnoticed in the public eye; largely unnoticed to those but the victims and their families who lived through tragedy. We're here to confront confidentiality agreements between schools and child sex offenders. We're here to reaffirm that the safety of our children must be the communities' number one priority.
Before coming to Congress -- I had the honor to serve as Delaware County District Attorney and US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In these roles, I made it my mission to help victims of abuse, particularly children. And through Pennsylvania's Safe Schools program, we were able to educate the community on ways to improve safety for children at school.
The vast majority of America's teachers represent the best of what our country has to offer -- caring, intelligent, and nurturing educators. America's teachers everyday make incredible sacrifices through their undeterred commitment to learning and growing the minds and capabilities of generations of Americans. Every one of us owes our individual success to the dedication of our school teachers.
I believe we are honoring those teachers by confronting this subject. But this hearing is not about teachers, it is about predators -- those who seek to damage the teaching and classified school employee professions. It is heartbreaking to see instances of abuse covered-up to protect jobs and status quo.
In 2010, the Government Accountability Office conducted a study on schools that hired employees that had histories of sexual misconduct. The GAO found that there are no federal laws that outlaw the employment of sex offenders in public or private schools.
Those that protect child abusers by doing nothing, remaining silent, and more deplorably assisting their actions by sending them to other arenas where they have access to children are accomplices to their crimes. And with passage of the Jeremy Bell Act, they will be breaking federal law.
Today we have an opportunity to hear directly from those who have been affected by cover-ups and confidentiality agreements. Our two panels of witnesses will share the story of Jeremy Bell; as well as the experiences of parents whose lives have forever changed by the victimization of their children; and lawmakers and experts who are dedicated to stopping these agreements and providing a safe environment for students.
I regret that this hearing is necessary, but I hope it will lend a voice to the innocent. I call on my colleagues in Congress to pass the Jeremy Bell Act, so Jeremy's legacy lives on, shining a light for America's children and all victims of abuse.
I yield back.