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Florida law enforcement to lawmakers: Tread carefully on 'Caylee's Law'

TALLAHASSEE — Law enforcement officials warned lawmakers on Monday that well-meaning proposals created in response to the Casey Anthony trial would confuse parents about the appropriate time to wait before reporting their missing children.

The real time to report a missing child is immediately, officials said.

But one version of "Caylee's Law," sponsored by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, requires caregivers to report a missing child to law enforcement within 48 hours or risk a felony charge. Similar hourly requirements are echoed in three Senate bills related to Fasano's SB 84.

"(Parents) may take that as, 'I don't need to report immediately, I can wait 48 hours,' " said Manatee County sheriff's Maj. Connie Shingledecker, chairwoman of a statewide team that reviews child abuse cases resulting in death.

By then it might be too late.

Shingledecker's concern was shared by other officials testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Protecting Florida's Children. The committee was created to analyze the need for a series of bills proposed following the death of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony.

Complaint about a time-frame aside, officials did not close the door to reform. They favored the idea of adding tougher penalties for people who lie to law enforcement in cases involving a child's death or serious bodily injury.

Casey Anthony waited 31 days to report Caylee's disappearance and was found guilty of the misdemeanor offense of providing false information to an officer. She was found not guilty of Caylee's murder.

A felony version of that law when applied to cases of children suffering serious injury or death may deter people from misleading law enforcement, Shingledecker said.

Lawmakers could also consider providing misdemeanor penalties for guardians charged with child abuse.

Pursuing child abuse as a felony in all cases may make lawmakers seem tough on crime, said the chairman of the committee, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. But it may also result in some people not being charged at all because it is too difficult to show bodily injury or malice, said Negron, who joined senators hoping not to over-react to Caylee's death with sweeping changes to child-protection law.

Law enforcement officials on Monday reminded lawmakers there was no public demand for changes to such laws before Caylee's death, and that the majority of parents act appropriately in reporting missing children, said Citrus County Sheriff Jeffrey Dawsy.

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said she did not want to send people to overcrowded prisons for giving police "run of the mill" false information.

The committee will meet one more time in October before making its recommendation to the Senate ahead of the 2012 lawmaking session. House members have filed similar bills, but those are not being vetted by a special committee.

Reach Katie Sanders at ksanders@sptimes.com or (850)224-7263.

Florida law enforcement to lawmakers: Tread carefully on 'Caylee's Law' 10/03/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 3, 2011 11:47pm]
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