FRANKFORT — A proposal by two Eastern Kentucky lawmakers would make it a felony for a parent or guardian not to report the disappearance of a child 12 or younger within 12 hours.
The bill, dubbed Caylee's Law, was inspired by the notorious case of Caylee Anthony, the 2-year-old Florida girl who was last seen a month before her mother reported her missing in 2008. Her mother, Casey Anthony, was acquitted last year in the girl's death.
The sponsors, Democratic Reps. Richard Henderson of Jeffersonville and Keith Hall of Phelps, told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the bill would give prosecutors and judges "another weapon in their arsenal to ensure that justice has prevailed."
Henderson said after the meeting that 12 hours improves the chances that police could find a missing child unharmed.
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Some lawmakers and other interested parties raised concerns about the broad wording of the bill and whether it could have unintended consequences, such as punishing a miscommunication between separated parents.
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, said such a situation could arise in a case of joint custody, when a child is with a baby sitter and one parent doesn't know it.
"The child may not be missing at all," she said.
Ernie Lewis, legislative agent for the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said his organization wouldn't support the bill as written.
He said the bill doesn't apply specifically to cases in which a parent or guardian intended to harm a child. The way it's written, he argued, a single mother could be charged if she leaves a child in the care of other children while she goes to work and doesn't know that the child has been missing.
"I fear that this will have a disproportionate impact on the poor," said Lewis, a longtime public defender and former head of the state Department of Public Advocacy.
Republican Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington said the bill needed to be more specific in defining "a person exercising custody and control of a child."
"I intend to support the legislation. I just think it needs to be sharpened a bit," he said.
Henderson and Hall said they would be willing to work with Lewis, other attorneys and other legislators to strengthen the language in the bill.
"At the end of the day, we hope to have a bill that protects the children," Hall said.
Henderson and Hall said the committee's chairman, Rep. John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, already has a committee substitute for their bill but they haven't seen it. They think they could amend the bill and bring it back before the committee for a hearing next week, as Tilley suggested during the meeting.