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4 Californians Seek to Toughen Federal Law on Child Abuse

Times Staff Writer

Four California Democrats, citing the McMartin Pre-School case as a reason for their action, introduced legislation in the House and Senate on Tuesday that they say would overturn laws preventing child abusers from being turned in and would improve prosecution of abusers.

A bill by Sen. Alan Cranston and Reps. Mel Levine of Santa Monica, George Miller of Martinez and Don Edwards of San Jose would require doctors and social workers in federal clinics to reveal to federal officials confidentially obtained information about child abuse. The law now requires that such information not be disclosed.

Miller, chairman of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, said the act would help “prevent this horrendous crime” by removing “the barriers that federal regulations impose.”

He cited “the frightening statistics” of abuse in announcing the introduction of the child abuse reporting and clearinghouse improvement act, an amendment to the Public Health Service Act, at a news conference Tuesday.

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Miller’s statistics indicate that the reported number of child abuse cases nationwide increased 142% from 1976 to 1983. In California, reported cases increased 72% from 1981 to 1983.

The bill was in part a response to reports of child abuse at the McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach, where operators of the school were charged with more than 200 counts of felony child molesting. Most of the charges in the case were dismissed last week after the parents of 28 alleged victims refused to let their children testify.

A statement released by Cranston said: “The urgent need for this legislation . . . is underscored by developments in the McMartin Pre-School case in Los Angeles.”

Chances Jeopardized

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Cranston said the chances for prosecuting child molesters are jeopardized whenever a child fails to testify, out of his own or his parents’ fear.

One provision of the bill would aim to reduce the trauma for children and improve the efficiency of prosecution by requiring the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect to provide information on how to smooth the trial process.

The legislation also would require the FBI to include annual statistics on child abuse.

Miller said he has written Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III asking that the data be added. “Meese has been asked to do it voluntarily, but if he doesn’t (Congress) will make it law,” he said.

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