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10/24/2021 07:23 PM
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20210&cosponId=34315
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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: January 21, 2021 06:20 PM
From: Representative Tarah Toohil
To: All House members
Subject: Ending Shadow Justice at the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA)
 
Next week,  we will be introducing legislation that addresses issues with the location and administration of hearings conducted by the Department of Human Services Board of Hearing and Appeals in order to add further protections for Child Victims. The Bureau of Hearings and Appeals has the authority delegated by the Secretary of Human Services to hear and adjudicate 280 jurisdictional issues for the Department of Human Services. The large majority of child abuse cases are never criminally prosecuted. Instead, about a 1,000 of these cases are heard every year by the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA).

A 2019 report by the Auditor General referred to this system as a “shadow justice” due to the large amount of cases that are overturned on appeal. More recently, right before Auditor General DePasquale left office, he again issued another investigative report on the BHA and the many inherent problems within that entity. https://www.paauditor.gov/Media/Default/Print/RPT_BHA_FINAL_011221.pdf
  • This legislation specifically amends the law to allow child abuse reports on appeal to be handled in the county where it originated rather than requiring a child victim to travel hours away from their home county.
  • This legislation will eliminate the use of the regular Bureau of Hearings and Appeals facilities which are not victim friendly and currently force victims to sit in close proximity to their abusers which has a chilling effect and re-traumatizes victims.
  • Allow County Court judges and masters to preside over these cases utilizing their more focused training and experience in handling child victims as witnesses and complex child abuse cases.  
  • This legislation allows counties to more adequately provide a multi-disciplinary approach to victim services with a centralized approach using the existing county system. For example, in many of these appeals, agencies that could be utilized are not even aware that there is an appeal which leads to overturned cases when vital parties are not present to advocate. ie.) Victim Services, County Children & Youth personnel, District Attorney’s office, Public Defender’s office, Child Advocacy Centers are all many times unaware that there is an appeal.
  • This legislation will allow the video taped testimony of child victims from the CAC to be used in BHA proceedings and will codify the legal standards which should be used in these proceedings to ensure clarity and uniformity.
This legislation will allow the appeals hearings to be less onerous on child victims while still upholding the due process rights of the accused while they exercise their appeal.  Please join us in co-sponsoring this very important bill.

Former HB 2808 Rep. Toohil (Session 2019-2020)