- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
At least one Maryland lawmaker wants to change Maryland law based on a Florida jury’s verdict in the trial of Casey Anthony, but others said it is not necessary and question whether media headlines should dictate legislative actions.
Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford, Cecil) intends to introduce a bill in the next General Assembly session calling for a Maryland “Caylee’s Law” that would make it a felony to fail to inform police that a child is missing or dead.
About 20 states currently are considering such a law, and an Internet petition is pushing Congress to enact one as well.
Anthony did not notify law enforcement that her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, was missing in 2008. Her grandmother, Cindy, contacted police a month after the child last was seen.
Following a much-publicized search, the girl’s remains were found about six months later near the family’s home.
On July 5, a Florida jury convicted Anthony of lying to police about her daughter’s disappearance but found her not guilty of murder — a verdict that angered much of the nation. She was released from jail Sunday.
“It’s terrible that it takes the tragic death of a child to spark legislation,” said Jacobs, a member of the Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee. “It really grabs the attention of people and makes them aware that something needs to change.”
However, other members of her committee, including its chairman, Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery), question the need for such a bill.
Frosh noted that during this year’s legislative session the General Assembly passed a law making child neglect a crime.
“If your kid is missing for a month and you do nothing about it, that’s neglect,” Frosh said.
He also cautioned lawmakers against rushing to pass legislation based on high-profile court cases.
“You can’t tell from watching a trial in Florida whether we have a problem in Maryland,” he said.
Sen. Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington), who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said that while he was among those outraged by the Anthony trial, he does not see the need to enact Caylee’s Law.
He suggested that lawmakers and others channel their emotions into correcting other inadequacies in the child welfare system.
“Some of that passion and energy could be better used to solve real problems rather than stoke imaginary ones,” Shank said.
However, if Jacobs’ bill passes it would not be the first time that Maryland has enacted laws based on headline-grabbing court cases, especially those involving children.
“The way things work in politics, sometimes the only way you can get things done is when things are in the headlines,” said Matthew Crenson, Johns Hopkins University political science professor emeritus. “This is not necessarily an unusual or even bad way to get things done.”
Cases like the Anthony trial raise awareness and generate a lot of constituent requests for bills, he said.
“When you get a lot of people feeling that way, political leaders take advantage of the moment to get things done,” Crenson said.
Following the 2009 kidnapping and death of an 11-year-old girl on the Eastern Shore, the General Assembly passed laws requiring new reporting for sex offenders. The girl’s killer was a registered sex offender who had a relationship with her guardian.
And in 2005, state lawmakers passed a law making it illegal to kill a viable fetus if the death was intentional. That legislation stemmed from a case in California.
Shank said he will continue to seek an increase in the maximum penalty for fatal child abuse.
He has introduced the bill every year since 2007, when a 4-month-old boy in Washington County was shaken to death by his mother’s boyfriend. The man was sentenced to life in prison.
The current maximum sentence for first-degree child abuse that results in the death of a child is 30 years. Shank’s bill, called “Justice’s Law” after the child, would require a life sentence.
While Shank said his legislation is needed to correct an injustice in the current law, he is unsure if Maryland needs Caylee’s Law.
“Just because it’s in the headlines doesn’t necessarily mean we need to rush and pass a bill and make ourselves feel good that we did it,” he said.
He agreed that the state’s law on child neglect would apply to people who do not report dead or missing children to the police.
“It’s not named for anybody, but it’s a perfectly good law,” Shank said.