Legislation to make members of the clergy mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect passed the Senate on a 44-5 vote today. The bill, SB 6298, is sponsored by Sen. Noel Frame (D-Seattle) and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Frame is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse that occurred from the ages of 5 to 10 by a member of her own family, and the abuse ended only after she told a teacher who was a mandatory reporter.

“Mandatory reporters play an essential role in protecting children. Just as teachers, doctors, and other trusted adults who work with children have the legal responsibility of being mandatory reporters of child abuse, members of the clergy have that same trusting relationship and should carry the same responsibility,” said Frame. “Too often, the cycle of violence and sexual abuse carries on for year after year, from generation to generation. I’ve been a victim of that cycle myself. When we see this happening, we need to intervene to break these cycles of abuse and get kids the help and protection they need.”

In 2023, Frame introduced SB 5280 on the same issue, which failed to pass because of disagreement over whether to include an exemption for clergy who learned about abuse during confession. The version of the legislation that passed the House, which closed the exemption for confession, was opposed by a majority of the Senate, and the two chambers were unable to agree on a final version of the bill.

The updated legislation strikes a compromise position. It includes an exemption for confession for the duty to report, but it does enact a duty for clergy to warn law enforcement or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families when “they have reasonable cause to believe that a child is at imminent risk of being abused or neglected, even if that belief is informed by information obtained in part as a result of a penitential communication.”