(TRENTON) - The Assembly gave final legislative approval on Monday to legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle and L. Grace Spencer to protect the interest of minors if it appears they have been sexually assaulted. The bill passed 73-0.
"Time is of the essence when it comes to possible sexual assault cases, especially those concerning minors," Vainieri Huttle said. "This legislation will relieve the backlog created by a loophole in the law as well as place the power back in the hands of the victim to receive help for their abuse."
Currently under the Statewide Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner ("SANE") Program, specially trained nurse examiners collect forensic evidence from sexual assault victims for use in prosecutions. However, due to another state law that pre-dates the "SANE " law, a minor who is a sexual assault victim may not be allowed an immediate "SANE" examination upon arriving at a hospital emergency room if the minor's parents or guardian cannot be reached and a physician is not immediately available to authorize the examination.
A minor can give consent to "medical or surgical care or services" without parental consent if, in the judgement of a treating physician, the minor appears to have been sexually assaulted. The result is that forensic examinations have been delayed for hours as the victim, the sexual assault nurse examiner, and the police officer wait for physician's authorization.
"Whenever a case for sexual abuse concerning minors arises, medical professionals should be allowed to move quickly and help the victim with the victim's consent," Spencer said. "Waiting for a third party approval when a child's well-being is at risk is unacceptable. This legislation empowers capable minors to make the decision to seek help."
The bill (A-4702) would allow other health care professionals, in addition to physicians, to authorize forensic sexual assault examinations and other medical care if a minor appears to have been sexually assaulted, regardless of whether the minor's parents or guardian have given consent. It also provides that such a minor may undergo a forensic sexual assault examination without parental consent.
"Health care professional" is defined as a physician, nurse or other health care professional whose professional practice is regulated under current statutes.
In addition, the bill changes the wording of the statutory provision that allows a minor who appears to have been sexually assaulted to receive emergency care without parental consent. Currently, such a minor may receive "necessary emergency medical or surgical care." Under the bill, the minor would be entitled to "any emergency medical or surgical care."
The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved the legislation last Thursday. The Senate approved identical legislation 40-0 in December. The bill now goes to the Governor's desk for review.