A bill that would establish a new, $100 fine for leaving a child unattended in car is getting mixed reviews at the statehouse. One Republican legislator says if the bill becomes law, government will be "creeping" into the "realm" of parental authority.
Representative Mark Smith, a Democrat from Marshalltown, is the bill’s author. "It has been brought to us by child protective workers who’ve been concerned about children being left alone in cars and some of the injuries that have occurred to them," Smith says, "plus exposure to things like hypothermia and conditions that are too hot for children to be in automobiles."
The bill would prohibit leaving a kid under the age of 12 alone in a vehicle and the fine for doing so would be a hundred dollars. But if an adult is able to maintain "visual contact" with the vehicle, they wouldn’t be charged. Critics say there are already laws on the books to deal with negligent parents who abandon their kids in a car.
"There probably are," Smith says. "Usually those (laws) occur after tragedies have occured and so this is a pro-active measure with doing education with people and making sure that they understand that there are problems that can occur when leaving children alone in automobiles, number one, and second of all, a fine if the child is found in the automobile where the parent or adult is not with them and not within eye shot of the child."
Smith says last Friday he met with a group of social workers who still see parents who leave kids alone in their cars, without thinking of the consequences. "We have an obligation to protect children here in the state of Iowa and as a mental health therapist I have worked with a number of people who have had tragedies like this occur in their lives and if we can prevent this, then we prevent a life of people living in remorse because they took some action that they didn’t realize was dangerous," Smith says.
A three-member subcommittee met early Tuesday to review the bill, but took no action on it so the future of Smith’s proposal is in doubt.