A bill to create tough new penalties for a parent who fails to report their child is missing has been tabled at the state capitol. However, a small group of Iowa legislators is asking the state attorney general’s office to issue a statement indicating a parent guilty of such conduct could and would be charged under current state law.
Representative Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, says legislators want to reassure the public after a high-profile Florida case involving a young mother whose toddler was found dead inside a garbage bag.
“We don’t want to risk that kind of a case here in Iowa,” Garrett says.
The trial of Casey Anthony was televised nationally last summer. She’s the so-called “tot mom” who did not report that her nearly three-year-old daughter was missing and — after her own mother reported her grandchild had been missing for a month — claimed the toddler had been abducted by a nanny. A jury in Orlando acquitted Anthony of murder and Garrett suggests Iowans want some sort of reassurance that wouldn’t happen here.
“They saw what they thought was an injustice,” Garrett says. “There’s a big concern.”
Representative Jeff Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, says Iowans from “across the political spectrum” have contacted him about the case.
“In eight years, never did I receive more emails and contacts than on this issue,” Kaufmann says. “This was number one.”
Kaufmann sponsored a bill which would have allowed prosecutors to charge a parent who “recklessly” failed within a 24-hour period to make contact with or “verify the whereabouts” of a child under the age of 12. He tabled the bill, but expects the state attorney general to draft a statement suggesting parents who’re like Florida “tot mom” Casey Anthony would be prosecuted. Kaufmann wants that statement by mid-March, before the Iowa Legislature adjourns for the year and Kaufmann suggests he’ll push to pass his bill if he doesn’t get the right answers.
“I don’t want that gavel to fall unless we know from the experts across the spectrum that you feel that kids are safe from this kind of situation,” Kaufmann says.
Marty Ryan, a lobbyist for the Justice Reform Consortium, suggests there’s no way the state can guarantee kids are always safe.
“Is this about prevention or vindication?” Ryan says. “And the answer I received was both, but I don’t think it’s going to prevent anything. I can’t see how it will prevent anything.”
Ryan says the state already has laws which allow parents to be charged with child endangerment, neglect, abandonment and even hiding a corpse.