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Although I have always been keenly aware that no legislator can accomplish anything alone, that point was underscored in the final days of this session. I owe a great debt of gratitude to our community for your help in passing a new law that will be vitally important to our children.
In April 2013, I introduced a bill known as Erin’s Law that would require that the State Board of Education establish units to teach children at every grade level how to recognize and report child sexual abuse. Recent statistics estimate that one in four girls and one in six boys will suffer sexual abuse before their 18th birthdays, but only one in 10 children will ever report their abusers. That is because most child sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone known and trusted by the family. When Erin’s Law reached subcommittee, three wonderful women from Lancaster were there to testify, two of whom were survivors of child sexual abuse. They testified that when they were children, school was the only place they felt safe and that they dearly loved their teachers, but it never occurred to them that they could tell a teacher about what was happening to them at home.
To many small children especially, what happens in their home is their version of normal. The hope is that when children are educated about the difference between “safe secrets” and “unsafe secrets,” and the fact that no one has a right to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, they will find the courage to report their abusers, thereby giving them a chance at a normal childhood.
Erin’s Law passed easily out of committee, thanks, in large part, to an army of supporters from our community who wrote, called and emailed state lawmakers throughout the process.
It enjoyed a similar reception in the Senate, thanks to our Sen. Greg Gregory, who helped garner support from his colleagues. But on the last day of session, I was given the disappointing news that the bill was “dead.” The reason it was believed to be dead was that an unrelated CPR bill had been attached to it because the stand-alone CPR bill had stalled due to some objection to its wording.
This was my second lesson in a week on how unrelated issues can stall or kill good legislation. I was told the same thing the nurse told me when I arrived at Springs Memorial Hospital in 1999 in rapid labor with my firstborn and naively requested an epidural: “Go ahead and get your mind right; that’s not going to happen.” And while I was resigned to the fact that I needed to “get my mind right” that Erin’s Law would probably not pass this term, I decided that if it died, it wouldn’t die while I sat in my seat. I would fight for it until the session ended at 5 p.m. So, I enlisted the help of everyone who was willing in both chambers, the staff in between and friends and neighbors at home in Lancaster.
In a two-hour span, we negotiated with senators and House members, stripped off the CPR language (and committed to work on a better CPR bill for next session), maneuvered through two amendments in both houses, was appointed to my first conference committee and worked out a compromise – which was approved by the Senate at exactly 4:59 p.m, with one minute to spare.
And while all of this was going on, throughout the day, members of our community paved the way by sending emails and making calls to lawmakers in both chambers asking them to pass Erin’s Law. One friend told me she received an email at the end of the day from a senator from another county saying, “We passed Mandy’s bill. You can stop emailing me now.” I got the impression that my fellow lawmakers were impressed at the degree of commitment displayed by Lancastrians, and that was the reason they were so willing to give Erin’s Law the extra attention needed to ensure that it was passed before the clock ran out.
I am so proud and grateful to be a part of a community that is so dedicated to helping others – and now my colleagues throughout the state also know what a wonderful community of people it is my honor to represent.
Mandy Powers Norrell represents District 44