Lawmakers will study Wyoming 'Caylee's Law'

Public outcry following Casey Anthony’s acquittal has prompted Wyoming lawmakers to explore legislation that would punish parents who fail to report missing children within a certain time frame.

The Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee will study the need for a "Caylee’s Law" when it meets next month in Sundance, a committee chairman said.

More than 20 states are considering versions of Caylee’s Law, which would make it a felony for parents or guardians to wait more than 24 hours to notify authorities of missing children. Other states are also contemplating making it a felony to wait more than an hour to report a child’s death.

An Oklahoma woman proposed the legislation in an online petition created after a jury acquitted Anthony of murdering her daughter, Caylee. Anthony waited a month before reporting her daughter missing.

The online petition has collected more than 1.25 million signatures. Many state lawmakers have also received emails from constituents urging passage of a Caylee’s Law in Wyoming, said judiciary co-chairman Sen. Drew Perkins. Instead of individual lawmakers pursuing a bill, the Legislature’s Management Council assigned the judiciary committee to study the issue.

Perkins said the committee will first examine whether existing laws already address the issue. If they don’t, the committee could draft a bill to be considered during the 2012 legislative session.

If the committee decides not to sponsor a Caylee’s Law, Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, plans to introduce a bill on his own during next year’s session. The Casey Anthony case raises questions about why it took so long for people to acknowledge a child was missing, he said.

"We should have something in place" Dockstader said. "It will be difficult because we are going into a budget session, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take a look."

Others question whether the law is necessary. Wyoming already has laws that protect against child endangerment and neglect, noted Linda Burt, executive director of the Wyoming chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Burt questions the wisdom of adopting a new law in response to one high-profile case.

"It’s not really something that I see as a problem" she said. "It seems to be a knee-jerk response to a unique circumstance that is not something that we see happening in any other instances. It is just not something that happens."

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, suggested the judiciary committee explore drafting a Caylee’s Law after receiving at least 20 emails from constituents.

Gingery, who works in the Teton County attorney’s office, said sending the bill to the judiciary committee will give lawmakers time to adequately study the issue and confer with experts before next year’s legislative session.

"They may get to the point where they say, 'It's not really needed here'" he said.

Perkins agreed there are dangers of developing legislation in the heat of the moment. But the Casper Republican doesn't expect Wyoming to simply enact the national proposal without study.

The committee will have a number of issues to examine, he said. A parent who fails to report a missing toddler puts the child at risk. But what about a teenager who doesn’t come home one night after a fight with his parents?

"You have to be careful about how you interfere with the family" he said. "You don’t want to go out and criminalize behavior that is either unintentional or merely negligent."

(Published by Tribcom - July 26, 2011)

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