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Texas passes bill shielding churches that report abusers

The Texas Legislature unanimously passed a bill to provide civil immunity to churches that disclose credible sex abuse allegations.

The Texas Senate passed House Bill 4345 late yesterday (May 22) without opposition, two weeks after the House approved the measure. The bill is written to protect charitable organizations, their volunteers and independent contractors from liability when disclosing credible allegations to prospective employers, even when no criminal charges have been filed against the accused.

Texas pastor Ben Wright, chairman of the Texas Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee helped initiate the bill.

“For it to go through without opposition in the House and the Senate is pretty remarkable,” he said, “especially on an issue where there are a lot of people that have different views on how we ought to deal with these issues. Obviously we’re not at the finish line yet.

“We need the governor’s signature, but … I’m pretty optimistic,” said Wright. Gov. Greg Abbott has 10 days to sign the bill.

The bill is designed to help prevent abusers from continuing the crime in a series of workplaces, Rep. Scott Sanford has said.

“Sexual abuse thrives in secrecy,” Sanford noted when the bill passed the House, “and this bill provides the protections for nonprofits to come forward to prevent any future harm.”

Informing churches and other nonprofits of the legislation, if it becomes law, is important to its success, Wright said.

“This bill doesn’t do a lot of good if churches don’t realize that they can pass on information to prospective employers,” Wright said. “The goal we’re all aiming for here is to reduce opportunities for offenders to get further opportunities to commit crimes and misconduct. We need to get the word out for the legislation to have that effect.”

Wright also believes the bill could serve as a model for other states.

The bill “would make charitable organizations and their employees or volunteers immune from civil liability for good-faith disclosure to an individual’s current or prospective employer,” according to the official House bill analysis, “information reasonably believed to be true about allegations that the individual, while an employee or volunteer of the charitable organization, engaged in sexual misconduct, sexually abused another individual, sexually harassed another individual, or otherwise committed a sexual offense or an offense of public indecency.”

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops and Texas Private Schools Association are among others who supported the bill.

— by Diana Chandler | BP

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