The state House unanimously approved legislation Monday to require parents to report their missing children despite bipartisan concerns that all it will do is cause problems for unwary adults.
HB 2018 makes it a felony for a parent, grandparent, guardian or caretaker to fail to tell law enforcement if a child is missing for at least 24 hours. That crime carries a presumptive term of 18 months in state prison.
The legislation is a direct outgrowth of the 2008 disappearance of Caylee Anthony in Florida. Her mother, Casey, who did not report her missing for 31 days, was tried and acquitted of her murder. The National Conference of State Legislatures said more than a dozen states, including Arizona, are considering similar versions of what has been called "Caylee's Law."
More recently - and locally - police began searching a landfill this weekend for the body of 5-year-old Jhessye Shockley. While her mother reported her missing from their Glendale home in October, court records said one of the girl's siblings told police she had not seen her sister since September.
Lawmakers did agree to provide a 24-hour window before a crime is considered to have occurred. But several legislators expressed concern that the measure, which now goes to the Senate, will only entrap otherwise law-abiding parents.
Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, said he understands how news events lead to this kind of measure. But he predicted that the law will lead to parents being charged with felonies because of incidents that have nothing to do with missing children but instead are the fallout of custody disputes.
"This is a knee-jerk reaction and sort of short-sighted," Ableser said. But he agreed to go along with the majority and vote for the bill.
Rep. Vic Williams, R-Tucson, agreed, saying creating this new crime won't keep a single child from being harmed by someone with ill intent.
"I don't think that making a law where it's a felony that they don't report their child missing for 24 hours is going to dissuade them from that action," he said. "Our energies in this body would be better served if we were to stiffen penalties against sex offenders, against child abusers, against parents that do harm to their children."
And Williams told colleagues this won't be the last time they see the issue.
"We will probably have to clean up this bill at some time," he said. "The only people caught up in this bill and hurt by it will be those from unintended consequences."