MR. MARTIN: New allegations of sexual abuse by a coach – this time, at Syracuse University – proves that our children are vulnerable to sexual predators, even in what we used to think were safe places, like college athletic programs. On top of the alleged abuse of minors, in this case and in the one at Penn State, these universities didn’t act to protect kids when charges were first raised years ago.
What can be done to keep our children safe from sexual assault? California congresswoman Karen Bass has introduced the Speak Out to Stop Child Abuse Act.
Congresswoman, welcome back to “Washington Watch.”
REP. KAREN BASS: Thank you. Thank you. It’s nice to be on again.
MR. MARTIN: Now, exactly what do you want to achieve with this particular bill, if it becomes law?
REP. BASS: Well, first of all, it is a beginning step. Basically, what the bill says is that any adult who witnesses or is aware of sexual abuse – that they have to report it; they have to do something. They have to report it to the police. They have to report it to Child Protective Services. And if you think of this case, where the coach at Penn State – one of the assistant coaches actually saw a child being raped, and it’s questionable as to whether or not he did anything at all – frankly, I don’t know how he slept at night without physically stopping what he saw right on the spot.
MR. MARTIN: Now, in the case of Penn State, they say that not only when it came to this particular coach, but also Coach Paterno, he did his job by notifying officials above him. So –
REP. BASS: That’s exactly –
MR. MARTIN: — if this law –
REP. BASS: — the problem.
MR. MARTIN: — says you have to notify the authorities –
REP. BASS: Right.
MR. MARTIN: — then what is the penalty built in if you don’t do that?
REP. BASS: Okay. Well, essentially federal law would be left up to the state. What the bill says is that each state, if you’re going to get federal funds for child abuse and neglect, that you have to impose a criminal penalty. Now, in some states, that might be a misdemeanor. In some states, that might be a felony, but the Penn case – the Penn State case is exactly the point. They were only required to report to the supervisors above them. There was nothing that required them to report to the authorities, and that was the problem.
MR. MARTIN: Now, clearly, you have a divided House.
REP. BASS: Um-hum.
MR. MARTIN: You know, how in the wor- — I don’t know how in the world you guys get a- — any work done over there –
REP. BASS: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: — with both sides on opposite ends. And so do you have bipartisan support for –
REP. BASS: Absolutely.
MR. MARTIN: — for this bill? How many folks have already signed up to it? And when do you think it might even come up for a vote?
REP. BASS: Well, we’re just getting started, but we started with bipartisan support. And I have to say that one of the things I did when I first came to Congress was form the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, and I have found over the years that this is an issue that brings both sides of the aisle together on. So, we have about 14 cosponsors of the bill right now. We’re just getting started, but we do have bipartisan support, and the first step that we hope to happen will be after the first of the year – a hearing in the appropriate committee. So, that’s what we’re working on right now.
MR. MARTIN: Now, you talk about the – the work of dealing with foster children. Earlier in the show, we –
REP. BASS: Right.
MR. MARTIN: — talked about former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his comments with regards to poor children. What do you make of that, and do you believe that someone making those kind[s] of comments, essentially assailing every poor kid? And we’re not talking about Black kids. Poor kids are poor kids, whether you’re talking about in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, his own home state of Georgia, he basically says, “You have no work ethic.”
REP. BASS: Well, you know, I – I think that we need to remember this is nothing new. I mean Newt Gingrich launched an attack on pull [sic] ch- — poor children in the 1990s and essentially said that the way we needed to deal with them was to just take them away from their parents and start orphanages. So, I think we need to dial into Newt Gingrich’s history, but I think it’s a perfect example of why he’s completely unfit to be the commander in chief, to be the President of the United States. We need to remember his past. Not much has changed with Newt.
MR. MARTIN: When we talk about those kind[s] of comments, when we talk about this issue when it comes to child sex allegations, how do we as a nation confront the reality of some kids who’re so vulnerable? In the case of Penn State, they say that he was targeting homes where the father wasn’t there. What really can the state do to impact that when you’re putting – or, we – we’re really trusting parents to really be the one who step up?
REP. BASS: Well – a- — and let me say it was actually a little further than that. What I understand he did was the first thing he did was he set up a group home. So, he was specifically targeting foster youth. And then we know the disproportionate numbers of African-American and Latino children that are in the foster care system.
But there’s actually a lot that can be done, and I do have to say that there’s been tremendous advances over the last ten years. But the bottom line is – is that when we look at a youth who is in the foster care system – our vu[l]nerable youth – the bottom line is that they need the same thing that – as any middle-class youth needs. They need the stability, they need the permanency of a family. They need social support, educational support.
And, again, working in a bipartisan fashion, with the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, and looking at it long term, we do want to transform the entire system to make even further improvements.
MR. MARTIN: One of the things that happened this week [was] the Senate would not move forward when it came to exte- — extending the payroll tax –
REP. BASS: Right.
MR. MARTIN: — deduction. What do you make of that when you’re talking about the White House says that’s some $1500 a year that – that will now be taken out of the pockets of just regular, hardworking families?
REP. BASS: Well, I – I’m actually hopeful of two things. Number one, that before the year is out, it will be extended; but we also need to extend unemployment insurance as well. Now, in my house, the question will be, “What will the Republicans attempt to extract from the Democrats in order to extend it?” But it is quite ironic [that] the party that says they don’t want any form of tax increase is willing to go along with a tax increase so long as it’s on the middle class. What they’re primarily concerned about is taxing – is not taxing millionaires.
MR. MARTIN: All right. Well, Congresswoman Bass, we certainly appreciate it. Thanks a lot.