On July 18, 2008, a grandmother in Florida reported her toddler granddaughter as missing. Now, three years later, we have all become too familiar with the fate that met little Caylee Marie Anthony.
Following the acquittal of her mother, who was charged with murdering the 2-year old, public outcry has prompted many to question if existing laws should be changed to provide better protection for children and impose harsher penalties for negligent parents.
In the days since the Casey Anthony trail concluded, I have received a number of constituent calls encouraging me to support prefiled legislation that would make it a felony to wait more than 12 hours to report a child as missing, and I would like to take this opportunity to let you, my constituents, know where I stand.
I have asked my staff to evaluate the need for legislation on this issue and examine existing statutes to determine whether current laws would serve the same purpose.
Bill Request 111, the proposed measure, would specifically require parents of missing children to notify authorities within 12 hours. Those who fail to do so would be charged with a Class D felony charge, a sentence that can carry up to five years in prison. Other statutes provide that children who are reported as and found to be runaways could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and tried in juvenile court.
Lawmakers in at least five states, including Florida where the Anthony trial took place, are planning to introduce their version of “Caylee's Law,” all of which would make it a felony to not report a missing child or child's death. Supporters believe the quicker authorities are alerted to a situation, the more likely it would be to find the child alive and safe; opponents say this response plays more to emotion than reason and is too late to apply to the case it was designed to address.
I am deeply committed to protecting the welfare our youngest citizens and will take those steps necessary to give our law enforcement officials and prosecutors all the tools they need to effectively prosecute those individuals who do harm to our children. What I do not want to do is rush to judgment on a piece of legislation that I have not had the opportunity to fully examine. I look forward to hearing from experts in various fields and making a decision based on the facts, not raw emotion.
As more details about Bill Request 111 and other pieces of proposed legislation are released, I would be happy to discuss these with you and welcome your comments. You may call me at home or leave a message for me on the toll-free line at 1- 800-372-7181. For those with Internet access, I can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
State Rep. Donna Mayfield, R-Winchester, represents the 73rd House District.