Maine Democratic Senate candidate Sara Gideon killed an anti-child abuse bill backed by health officials just days after a Democratic legislator resigned for allegedly having sexual relationships with high school girls.
Gideon, who has served as speaker of the Maine House of Representatives since 2016, mobilized her caucus to vote against legislation that would have attached criminal penalties to those who knowingly fail to report child abuse. Just 10 days before the Aug. 30, 2018, vote, Democratic state legislator Dillon Bates resigned after allegations surfaced that he had sex with multiple high school students that he taught. Former Maine legislator Deborah Sanderson said it was the height of hypocrisy for Gideon to kill child abuse legislation at a time when she also had to contend with an alleged child sex offender in her caucus.
“You can’t say you care about children and … at the same time, not be willing to put in stricter and stronger regulations for someone who knowingly or intentionally does not report child abuse,” Sanderson said. “Not only are the people who don’t report culpable, but those who wouldn’t pass that legislation are culpable.”
Gideon’s decision to rally votes against the mandated reporting law put Maine out of step with the rest of the country. More than 40 states currently consider it either a felony or a misdemeanor for mandated reporters to not report suspected abuse, according to a federal government report. Maine law currently imposes only a civil penalty for mandated reporters—a class of people which includes teachers, doctors, and other professionals who regularly interact with kids—that do not report child abuse. The lack of criminal consequences motivated some reporters to shirk their responsibilities, according to a testimony by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
“It is the Department’s position that adding consequences for failing to report child abuse and neglect will remind mandated reporters of the gravity and importance of this duty and therefore increase the safety of the children in Maine,” said Bethany Hamm, the then-acting Maine HHS commissioner.
Gideon did not respond to request for comment.