Parents who don't report missing kids might face charges

2013-01-09T00:00:00Z Parents who don't report missing kids might face chargesHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - State lawmakers will get another chance to decide if parents who don't report their children as missing should be charged as criminals.

The proposal by Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, would make it a crime for a parent or guardian to fail to inform police if a child younger than 6 has been missing for at least 24 hours. The same requirement would apply to stepparents or anyone who "has the care of custody" of that child.

Violators could end up behind bars for 18 months.

The measure is an outgrowth of the Casey Anthony case in Florida. She was acquitted two years ago of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

Prosecutors said pursuing that case was complicated by the fact that Anthony did not report her daughter missing in 2008 for 31 days. Her skeletal remains were found six months later.

Ugenti said she is not trying to change Arizona law based on an isolated incident.

"I don't know how isolated it is," she said. "I'm glad it's not at an epidemic level, that's for sure," Ugenti continued. "But it's about protecting children."

Ugenti also said her proposal is far less sweeping than what was adopted in some other states in the wake of the Casey Anthony case.

For example, she said, the New Jersey version of the law makes it a felony to fail to report a missing child up to age 13. Illinois and South Dakota have similar measures.

And the Louisiana statute covers children of all ages.

"Mine is very tailored and narrow," Ugenti said, notably that it applies only through age 5.

"It's designed to protect the most vulnerable population," she continued. "If a child, a toddler is missing, their safety is at risk."

The terms of HB 2002 are not new. The same measure was approved last year by the state House.

But it bogged down when state senators, at the behest of Attorney General Tom Horne, tacked on an unrelated provision aimed at the polygamous community of Colorado City, on the Utah border. That change would have allowed county supervisors to have the sheriff's department take over law enforcement in any city where at least half the local police officers over an eight-year period have had their peace-officer certifications revoked.

More than half of the officers in Colorado City have lost their certification, some for misconduct with minors and others after declaring that their loyalty to Warren Jeffs, the jailed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, is more important than state law.

Horne actually got a version of that measure out of the Senate last year, only to have it killed in the House amid opposition from the two Republican representatives of the area, Doris Goodale of Kingman and Nancy McLain of Bullhead City. McLain said the community now has new officers who are certified and it would be wrong for Colorado City to lose its local police force now because of the actions of prior officers.

With time running out toward the end of the session, Horne tacked that language onto Ugenti's more popular House-passed bill as it was going through the Senate. But House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, refused to consider the Senate changes, ruling that the new amendment did not meet a requirement that amendments to a bill be germane to the original measure.

And with lawmakers at the end of their session, that killed the entire proposal.

Horne said he intends to pursue some version of the Colorado City legislation this session.

"I don't know how isolated it is. I'm glad it's not at an epidemic level, that's for sure. But it's about protecting children."

Michelle Ugenti,

R-Scottsdale

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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