MARSHALL - A bill to change the way reports of child sexual abuse are handled in Minnesota got official approval from Gov. Mark Dayton this week, as Dayton signed Jacob's Law in a public ceremony Wednesday morning.
Members of the southwest Minnesota family that advocated for the bill, along with state legislators, including bill authors District 13B Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, and District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, were present for the ceremony at the state capitol.
Jacob's Law directs law enforcement agencies to contact both parents if a child is the victim of neglect or abuse occurring outside the family. Sarah Guggisberg, a Clara City resident, has been working with state legislators to push for the creation of the law since last fall. Guggisberg's son Jacob was sexually abused by a neighbor while visiting family in Lyon County in 2005, but Guggisberg said law enforcement did not notify her of the abuse.
Photo provided by the Governor’s Office
Gov. Mark Dayton was joined at the bill signing ceremony Wednesday by Jacob Gould and members of his family, along with Rep. Bruce Vogel of Willmar (front, center), Sen. Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls, and Rep. Chris Swedzinski of Ghent. The bill passed both bodies of the Legislature with unanimous support.
Guggisberg said the signing of the law might help bring a little healing for Jacob and his family, but the purpose behind the law was to help other kids like Jacob.
"It's not about us," Guggisberg said. "Nobody should have to feel this kind of pain."
State lawmakers in both the Senate and House agreed, passing Jacob's Law unanimously. The bill also gained support from groups including the Minnesota Coalition against Sexual Assault, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, the Legal Services Advocacy Project, and the Safe at Home program in the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office.
Watching the bill's progress was an unusual experience, Guggisberg said.
"There aren't many times the House and Senate can pass a bill unanimously," she said.
"We're very pleased," Vogel said of the signing. "This closes a loophole in the law we definitely needed to take care of."
Both Vogel and Dahms said Wednesday the bill's success was because of the efforts of Jacob's family.
"They put in tremendous amounts of work on this," pushing for the law and providing testimony to legislators, Dahms said. "We really need to commend Sarah, Jacob and their entire family for seeing this through from start to finish."
Jacob's Law amends existing state laws regarding the rights of divorced parents and the reporting of alleged child abuse. The amendments give parents the right of access to police reports and other important information concerning a minor child, as well as the right to be notified by the other parent if the child is the victim of an alleged crime. The law also requires law enforcement agencies to notify local welfare agencies if a child is the victim of a crime, so they can offer social services.
Before being passed, Jacob's Law underwent some revisions, which would help protect children and families. For example, the notification rights in the final law do have some exceptions, if one parent is the alleged perpetrator of a crime or is prohibited by court order from contacting the other parent.
Although Jacob's Law will take effect in Minnesota this year, Guggisberg said she plans to work together with Vogel to advocate for other states to adopt similar laws.
"I think we have to. There are only a few states that have a law like this in place," she said.