WILKES-BARRE — U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is hopeful his bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting children from sexual and violent predators will soon be passed by the Senate.
The legislation — Protecting Students from Sexual and Violent Predators Act — was unanimously approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, and Toomey said it should also move through the Senate unanimously.
Toomey held a teleconference Monday to talk about several issues, but the child protection legislation was at the top of his agenda, noting April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“There are predators who systematically seek out jobs where there are opportunities they have access to and the ability to manipulate and control children so they can inflict their ways on them,” Toomey, R-Zionsville, said. “This is absolutely evil and it happens all the time.”
He noted that so far in 2014, 122 school teachers have been arrested on child abuse-related charges.
Three Luzerne County teachers are facing charges.
• Lauren Harrington-Cooper, Wyoming Valley West, was arrested Dec. 18 after an 18-year-old male student claimed she performed oral sex and had intercourse with him inside her vehicle. The student’s parents discovered text messages between their son and Harrington-Cooper, 31, on a laptop computer. Charges stemming from alleged incidents with three other students have since been filed.
• In February, Stephen Stahl, 47, Coughlin High School dean of students and wrestling coach, was charged with corruption of a minor after a female former student said she had a sexual relationship with him nearly a decade ago.
• In January, Edward M. Evans, 33, was charged with institutional sexual assault. According to police, Evans, a social studies teacher at Hanover Area Junior/Senior High School, said he had been giving guidance to a student for several months.
During the teleconference, Toomey also detailed two new initiatives:
• His co-sponsorship of legislation and involvement in a work group designed to reduce the backlog of claims within the Veterans Administration.
• His efforts to push back against what he calls an onerous Environmental Protection Agency power grab that could open up all sorts of agricultural and business activity that is already regulated at the state level to more federal Clean Water Act regulations.
Toomey said his child protection legislation would require a background check on all employees who come in contact with children, including new hires and existing employees.
Toomey said there are five states that don’t mandate background checks at all and 12 states don’t require background checks for contractors who work on schools.
“I’ll be stepping up my efforts to get this over the goal line,” he said. “We have to put an end to this outrageous behavior that we have seen tragically too often.”
Toomey said the legislation has gotten “a little push-back” in the Senate, but he expects the opposition will evaporate soon.