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Gov., AG seek to fix abuse-reporting law

SANTA FE – A state appeals court ruling that limits who is required to report suspected child abuse and neglect in New Mexico is being blasted by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and Democratic Attorney General Gary King as a foolish decision that puts children in danger.

The decision by the state Court of Appeals brought together the two rivals in the 2014 governor’s race. King’s office said it will ask the state Supreme Court to overturn the ruling and Martinez’ office said she would take the issue up with the Legislature.

The Appeals Court ruled Monday that only 10 categories of people listed in state law, including teachers and physicians, are required to report suspected child abuse to authorities. Under the court’s interpretation of the law, a relative who suspects a child is being abused would not be required to report it to authorities.

A spokesman for the attorney general, Phil Sisneros, said the court’s narrow interpretation of the abuse-reporting requirement “could place children in jeopardy.”

Martinez, a former prosecutor, considers the ruling “terribly misguided,” said spokesman Enrique Knell. She plans to ask the Legislature to change the law to make certain all New Mexicans are obligated to report suspected child abuse.

At issue is a state law whose wording could be interpreted multiple ways about who is required to report child abuse.

The law states: “Every person, including a licensed physician; a resident or an intern examining, attending or treating a child; a law enforcement officer; a judge presiding during a proceeding; a registered nurse; a visiting nurse; a school teacher; a school official; a social worker acting in an official capacity; or a member of the clergy who has information that is not privileged as a matter of law, who knows or has a reasonable suspicion that a child is an abused or a neglected child shall report the matter immediately to” authorities.

The attorney general and governor believe it’s clear that “every person” is required to report abuse. The court’s opinion said the law should apply to the list of professions as it put less emphasis on the “every person” reference.

The court’s majority said, “Though the purpose is stated broadly, in our view the Legislature intended to strike a balance, imposing a duty on only those people who were most likely to encounter abused and neglected children in their professional capacities.”

In a dissenting opinion, Judge J. Miles Hanisee said the law contained a “plain directive” requiring all individuals to report suspected child abuse.

The ruling came in the case of an Albuquerque man charged with sexually abusing his daughter.

The court affirmed a Bernalillo County district judge’s decision granting an order to prevent the man’s social worker and ex-wife from disclosing to law enforcement what he had said during counseling.

The man has pleaded not guilty to charges of criminal sexual contact of a child under age 13. The case is pending while prosecutors appeal the protective order.

The Associated Press is not identifying the charged man to protect the privacy of the child who was allegedly sexually abused. The daughter is not identified in the court ruling, but her father and mother were named.

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