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Vargas Says Penn State Scandal Could Happen In California

Aired 11/23/11 on KPBS News.

Could the alleged sex abuse cover-up at Penn State happen in California? A local lawmaker says yes. Now he wants to amend the law.

— California has an extensive law requiring teachers, doctors, youth coaches and many others in charge of children to report child abuse to the police. But State Senator Juan Vargas believes there’s a loophole: He said the current law doesn’t say anything about athletic coaches at colleges and universities.

At Penn State, football coaches who learned of possible abuse allegedly told their superiors, but did not go to police. Vargas said a similar situation could happen here, under the existing law.

"Why would you maintain the loophole in California? To protect those UCLA’s, those great athletic programs? No," he said.

Vargas, who is running for Congress, said simply telling a boss about child abuse is not enough; such crimes need to be reported to police.

"I want coaches to be on notice that we can go after them,'' Vargas said. He said current state law lists a number of occupations on college and university campuses in which employees are required to report molestations to law enforcement, but coaches are not among them.

Officials at San Diego State University and the University of San Diego, the two universities in the area that play Division 1 sports, told City News Service their coaches are required to report such acts.

Vargas said that could be a matter of school policy, but it's not written into the law. The measure, which he plans to introduce in January, would cover both public and private institutions but would not involve high school athletics, where child abuse reporting rules are clear, he said.

In addition to requiring college coaches to report abuse, Vargas is calling for increased fines and jail time for anyone who fails to report an incident. His bill would double the possible jail sentence and increase fines for people who are required to report instances of child abuse to law enforcement, but don't. However, he said he is doubtful the tougher penalties will pass in the legislature.

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