A new law set to take effect later this year is designed to plug loopholes that Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley said can allow cases of sex abuse to remain unreported.
The statute expands the situation under which people with information about suspected cases of molestation of children have to notify authorities.
Specifically, it says a report must be filed if someone "reasonably believes’’ that abuse has occurred.
That is a broader standard than the current law which mandates that authorities be contacted only when their own observations give them "reasonable grounds to believe’’ certain crimes have been committed.
Romley’s office sought the change in the law, which, he said, is directly related to "the conduct of the church.’’
Jerry Landau, a special assistant Maricopa County attorney, said under current law if a parent comes to a priest, bishop or other church official and says his or her child is being molested by a priest, there is no legal requirement for the official to inform police. That is because the official had not actually seen any abuse nor been told of it by the victim.
Landau said the fact that "there might be half a dozen people telling them’’ of a problem does not change that.
Changing the standard obligates that a report be made.
The law does not override the priest-penitent privilege that protects members of the clergy from having to disclose what is told to them in confession or similar conversations because the parent is going to the church official not to confess or seek counseling for personal acts.
The measure also boosts the penalty for failing to report from a misdemeanor to a felony which can bring a year in state prison.
While the legislation has been signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano, it will not go into effect until 90 days after the end of the current Legislative session.