Outrage over the the Casey Anthony verdict has led to dozens of proposals for “Caylee’s Laws” — laws that would require parents to report the death of a child within 24 hours or a missing child within 3 days. These laws are impossible to enforce, will not prevent a single instance of abuse, but could lead to the prosecution of innocent parents who’ve suffered a tragedy. What’s not to like?
The best exposition of why these laws are so bad comes from Radley Balko at HuffPost. He details the impossibility of determining time-of-death (as opposed to CSI and other fanciful make-believes) and other practical issues (if the child dies while asleep, when does the one-hour countdown start?). He even makes the extreme aspects of such laws seem almost inevitable:
If you find it doubtful that a prosecutor could be so vindictive, look at Mississippi and Alabama, where women who have had miscarriages are being charged with murder.
During the 2011 Legislative session, a number of wrong-headed bills of this sort came up. HB 2183 makes a felony of a false report of child abuse. Half-a-dozen Representatives stood to speak against the bill, stating unequivocally that fear of being accused of making a false report would lead to even fewer reports being made. Sara Gelser went so far as to call it a “horrible” bill.
It passed. Co-sponsor Rep Mike Schaufler’s justification for supporting the bill? Maybe very few people false reports are made but, by golly, we gotta do something! Why? He never bothered to explain that.
Thankfully, at the same time Rep Lindsay was grabbing vast amounts of tv time with his proposal for a Caylee’s Law, State Sen Jeff Kruse included this in his end-of-session email to constituents:
I can understand the frustration people seem to have at the potential lack of justice. I would keep in mind none of us were on jury, were in the court room every day, or were part of the jury deliberations. For the most part I think our system gets it right, but no system will ever be perfect.
I would also suggest we be very careful about asking for new laws based on one incident. I often find we do not need new laws, we just need to have better enforcement of the ones we already have. I am in no way condoning Casey Anthony’s actions, but I think under Oregon law and with different charges the result may have been different. We take child abuse very seriously in this state and our laws reflect our position.
Oregon’s children need real protection from abuse, not after-the-fact nonsense like Lindsay’s grandstanding. Poverty, substance abuse, parents who were abused, lack of support network; these are the causes of child abuse. Lindsay will waste hours of precious legislative time in 2012 with this bill if he does indeed submit it. Instead of addressing the real needs of Oregon’s children, he’ll get headlines to help his re-election bid. Another “pro-family” politician actually causing harm to kids who need their community to do something tangible, not symbolic.
Let’s hope Oregon politicians have Sen Kruse’s sensibility and not Lindsay’s shallow, craven appetite for publicity. (This is the guy who actually thought that the Dems were paying me to track him, of all the GOP members of the Leg; I was tracking no one, but if I had, it would not have been a lackluster, do-nothing backbencher who failed at his #1 job in 2011 — get a good redistricting plan for his party.) “Caylee’s Law” is, to use Rep Gelser’s word, a horrible idea. [edit: Rep Gelser did not use that word regarding this bill but HB 2183; I did not interview her for this piece.] If you actually care about child abuse, do something productive and real. There are so many avenues open to help kids in Oregon.
And a few to help politicians who really don’t give a damn.
Do you know of a case of abuse? Do you suspect something? Act now!
If you witness abuse, call 911 immediately.
If you suspect abuse, call DHS or your county health department. (DHS info available online)
Don’t worry about getting it right: if you suspect, act. Error on the side of the child’s safety.
And if you worry that you might harm your child, you are not a bad parent. Get help, now.
T.A. Barnhart has been writing at Blue Oregon for nearly 6 years, and recently wrapped-up the Salem portion of The Action TAB, video reports from the 2011 Legislature; a project made possible by supporters at Kickstarter.com. This project will now expand to other areas; all reports can be followed at Facebook.