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Casey Anthony verdict prompts Florida lawmakers to consider children protection laws

TALLAHASSEE — The chairman of a special Florida Senate panel created in response to Casey Anthony's acquittal cautioned lawmakers Monday against an emotional reaction that could result in unintended consequences.

A jury in Orlando found Anthony not guilty of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

The initial task for the Select Committee on Protecting Florida's Children will be to determine whether there's a need for any new laws, said Chairman Joe Negron.

The Stuart Republican said he doesn't want lawmakers to repeat what happened when they passed an overly broad law designed to keep sex offenders out of public schools after the murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford six years ago in Homosassa by a convicted child molester.

"Many of you remember in the wake of the Jessica Lunsford case, some provisions that were passed ended up having to be repealed," Negron told the committee.

Besides sex offenders, the Lunsford law unintentionally blocked people with arrest records for a wide range of crimes — including embezzlement, drunken driving and a variety of misdemeanors — from entering school grounds. They included sports referees, construction workers and delivery people.

Five bills have been filed in the Senate and two in the House, all related to Anthony's failure to tell family members that Caylee was missing until a month after she disappeared. Failing to report a missing child to authorities currently is not a crime in Florida or any other state.

Each bill would require parents and other caregivers to report missing children to authorities within 12 or 48 hours of their disappearance. Failure to do so could result in a prison sentence of up to five years.

Some of the bills also would make it a crime not to report a child's death, but Negron pointed out that an existing law already requires that all deaths be reported.

"After the verdict, I think we as legislators, like citizens, were very emotional," said Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. "I think we will learn from mistakes of the past of legislating through emotion."

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican, created the committee about a month after the verdict. Negron said he expects the panel to make a recommendation by the end of the year. The Legislature convenes its annual 60-day session in January.

The panel's options include recommending a new law, changing existing statutes or taking no action.

Anthony initially had been charged with child neglect, which includes failing to care for and supervise a child, but prosecutors dropped that count.

"How can you supervise a child when you don't know where the child is?" Negron asked

Lawmakers also received a warning about unintended consequences from Donna Uzzell, director of criminal justice information for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Uzzell said it's very rare that missing children go unreported. Reporting, though, can be delayed in cases of parental abductions and frequent runaways, and some people wrongly believe there's a waiting period before they can report children missing, Uzzell said.

Sen. Mike Fasano, the sponsor of one of the "Caylee's Law" proposals, said he believes prosecutors would have had an additional tool had the law requiring the reporting already been in place.

"I'm not sure what the unintended consequences are," Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said. "This is a perfect example, in my opinion, where the mother got away with murder. We all know that it is a fact that she failed to report her daughter missing, not one day but for 30 days. And if we had a statute in place that would have allowed the state attorneys to charge her with that crime, she would have been found guilty on that charge and would be serving a period of time in jail."

Information from the Palm Beach Post was used in this report.

Casey Anthony verdict prompts Florida lawmakers to consider children protection laws 09/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 12:49am]
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