The state Senate passed a bill to make the well-being and safety of a child a major concern in custody disputes on Thursday.
Senate Act 78, known as Kayden’s Act, would require judges to consider criminal convictions in custody disputes, and recommends courts across the state to provide training on child and domestic violence for judges and court staff.
It was passed with 46 votes to 4.
The bill is named after Kayden Mancuso, the 7-year-old girl from Lower Makefield who was murdered by her birth father in August 2018 during an unattended, court-ordered overnight visit. Jeffrey Mancuso then committed suicide.
He had a documented history of violent and unpredictable behavior, but no allegations of abuse against Kayden. A court-ordered psychological examination diagnosed him with severe depressive disorder, moderate anxiety, and narcissistic and antisocial personality traits.
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While that assessment recommended allowing Mancuso unsupervised visits only if he was entering psychiatric treatment, the assigned judge did not require it in his final custody ordered three months before Kayden’s murder.
Her death highlighted issues in the state’s family court system, including reforms such as SB 78 by Sens. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Township, Luzerne County, and Steve Santarsiero, D-10, Lower Makefield.
“No child in Pennsylvania should ever be left alone with an abuser, period. Kayden’s law will help ensure that this never happens again, ”Santarsiero said on Thursday.
Santarsiero originally introduced Kayden’s bill as Senate Bill 868 in 2019, but that bill never made it out of the Senate Committee on Funds after being referred there in October 2020.
Baker joined Santarsiero in reintroducing the bill as SB 78 in January after hearing testimony from Kayden’s family at the 2019-2020 AGM.
“Too many terrible tragedies are explained away on the unacceptable excuse that no system can protect everyone or foresee the actions of those prone to violence,” Baker said in a joint press release with Santarsiero.
“Without this change in law, the system would remain detrimental to the interests and safety of children at risk,” added Baker.
Kayden’s bill now has to cast three votes in plenary before being sent to Governor Tom Wolf’s desk to be passed or vetoed.
Kayden’s death has also sparked a federal push to include states with laws similar to SB 78 eligible for funding formula grants for services, training, officers and law enforcement (STOP) of violence against women.
Middletown Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1, described the provision he was introducing into a law approving the Violence Against Women Act as sort of a federal version of Kayden’s law.
As a federal law, VAWA cannot regulate state courts, but it can allocate STOP grants and other funding for victims’ needs and other training in domestic violence cases.
The federal law was originally enacted in 1994 but expired two years ago.
The House of Representatives passed the draft law to re-authorize the VAWA in March with 244-172 votes, but the Senate took no action.
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