A Historic Child Abuse Prevention Bill is Dying in the Senate | Opinion

More than 18 months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a historic bill that would dramatically improve our ability to protect America's children from abuse and neglect. The proposal was written by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, it passed the House with unanimous support, and was endorsed by every leading child welfare organization in the country.

In roughly seven days the bill will officially die in the Senate. The American people deserve to know why.

After a decades-long decline in cases of child abuse and neglect, our nation has suffered a disturbing uptick in child maltreatment. This worrying trend prompted me and my colleagues in Congress to revisit the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA, which governs the federal effort to protect children from abuse and neglect.

In a bitterly divided Congress, we produced a rare bipartisan agreement. Stronger CAPTA, approved by the House last year, would make significant improvements to the existing law. It would provide record levels of funding for preventing and treating child abuse, increase accountability to make sure states are using that money effectively, and close gaps in the law that put vulnerable children in danger.

This includes the creation of a new national data exchange that would allow local officials to check if a parent or guardian has a record of child abuse or neglect in another state. Such a system would likely have saved the life of Heaven Watkins, an 11-year-old girl from my community who tragically died because local child protective services had no way of knowing that her parents had a history of child abuse in another state.

Our system should not allow child abusers to conceal their past by simply crossing state lines.

The bipartisan Stronger CAPTA was so widely praised that we expected Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to quickly bring the bill to the Senate Floor for a successful vote. Senate Republicans decided to play politics with child abuse instead.

First, Leader McConnell ignored the House bill. After the bill sat untouched in the Senate for 15 months, Republican Senator John Cornyn—who was in the middle of a tough re-election campaign—insisted on pushing his own bill as an alternative.

The Cornyn bill, which is three pages long, allows federal funds to be used for child sexual abuse awareness and prevention, something that is already allowed under current law. It provides no money, no accountability, and no new protections for children. The Cornyn bill is not the overhaul of CAPTA that children desperately need.

But while Mr. Cornyn's proposal is narrow and redundant, I support any effort to prevent the horrific experiences that too many children in this country endure. In an effort to salvage a compromise, I offered to insert his language into the House's comprehensive bipartisan bill and pass them together.

Mr. Cornyn and his Republican colleagues rejected that offer—and then publicly accused me of blocking legislation to prevent child sexual abuse.

With barely a week left in the 116th Congress my offer is still on the table. We can send a comprehensive bill to the president's desk—with Mr. Cornyn's language—that will strengthen protections for children across the country. Senate Republicans just have to decide that passing legislation to prevent child abuse is more important than political gamesmanship.

Despite all the bipartisan work we've done, the 116th Congress might end next week without better safeguards for vulnerable children. Now, you know why.

Congressman Robert C. "Bobby" Scott represents Virginia's third congressional district and is the Chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.