MANATEE -- State Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, is sponsoring a bill dubbed Caylee’s Law in reaction to the Casey Anthony trial.
If passed in the next legislative session, the law would make it a felony not to report a missing child to law enforcement.
“The purpose of my bill is twofold,” Hager said. “First to provide another arrow in the prosecutor’s quiver, in terms of prosecuting such matters in the future and No. 2, to remind all parents and guardians they need to immediately report a missing child.”
Hager said the monthlong lapse when Anthony didn't report her daughter missing was the “dark cloud” that hovered over the case and one of the factors that inspired the proposed bill.
Hager has been soliciting input from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the attorney general’s office, and local law enforcement for the bill.
He said his proposed legislation is in no way a criticism of the jury in the Anthony case or of the legal process. “I just hope if a parallel situation surfaces in the future, this felony law will be in place,” Hager said.
Most parents and guardians do call law enforcement when their children are missing, said Dave Bristow, spokesman for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Bristow said he cannot recall a case similar to Anthony’s in Manatee County.
“We’ve never really had a case where that would apply,” he said. “When children are missing, 99 out of 100 times they will report it.”
State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said he supports Hager’s proposed legislation and thinks it could possibly spread across the country.
“I don’t think any legislator, Democrat, Republican or Independent would be against this,” said Boyd.
Most parents would call law enforcement the moment their child is missing, Boyd said. “I believe in the long run this will be good.”
Critics of the proposed Caylee’s law said it is a knee-jerk reaction from those who are unhappy with the outcome of the Anthony trial.
“It’s just another politician getting ready for the election season,” said Jim Delgado, of the Palmetto law firm Kallins, Little & Delgado, who handles criminal defense cases.
“Every time something like this happens -- a decision that is not popular -- I think the first thing people want to do is change something in the system,” Delgado said. “It’s still child neglect, there are laws that cover this.”
State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft of Oklahoma said in a phone interview he also drafting a similar bill, in part due to the verdict in the Anthony trial and reaction among his constituents.
“We got numerous emails and calls asking us to do something about creating a law,” said Wesselhoft, a Republican. “I took their advice.”
His version of Caylee’s law would require a parent or a guardian to notify authorities immediately if there is a death, killing or missing person and would make it a felony if parents and guardians wait longer than 24 hours to report a child missing who is younger than 12.
Although he is quick to note that such a law needs to be clear on when the clock starts ticking on when a parent should call 911, he said it would be up to the court to decide if a parent acts in a reasonable time frame.
He said the job of politicians is to react to situations that may bring to light weaknesses in the system.
“This is how laws are created,” Wesselhoft said. “I don’t want to see any Casey Anthony situations in my state.”
-- Herald reporter Sara Kennedy contributed to this report