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Lawmakers warned to be careful of stiffer child protection penalties

By Sascha Cordner

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-988655.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – A Senate Panel looking at making tougher penalties to protect the state's children is moving forward in considering laws to protect the state's children. As Sascha Cordner reports, one area of the law they are looking at putting stricter punishments in place includes people who provide false information in the investigation of a missing child.

A special stand-alone panel listened to presentations given by law enforcement, state, and court officials on Monday regarding if lawmakers should pursue additional laws to protect Florida's children.

The panel, called the Senate Select Committee on Protecting Florida's Children, was created by Senate President Mike Haridopolos. It was formed in response to all the legislation lawmakers filed called "Caylee's law," due to following the Casey Anthony trial when she was cleared of killing her two-year-old daughter Caylee.

Casey did not report her child missing for about a month.

Under current law, there are no penalties for not reporting a child missing within a certain timeframe. But, the bills that lawmakers filed would change that: Some say report your child missing within a 12-hour period, or face the penalties. Other bills call for reporting within a two-day period.

But, several law enforcement officials testified before panel members that they're not so sure putting a deadline in place is a good idea.

Prior to the Caylee situation, we had not been hearing a great query of needs to change the laws. And, so I would caution as you know, be very deliberative in reacting to one particular case that there are not unintended consequences.

Mike Ramage with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was not the only one giving warnings. Tallahassee Police Chief Dennis Jones did the same:

Be mindful that there are already are some penalties for failure to report. Be careful about having a penalty gap where it's a misdemeanor and then suddenly it's a second degree felony in terms of deliberative review of what you do.

Chair of the Panel, Republican Senator Joe Negron of Palm City, says he will take all the suggestions into consideration. But, there was one particular idea that caught his attention, above all others. Instead of a misdemeanor, it would make it a felony for those parents who provide false information to authorities during an on-going missing child investigation, especially if the child is a victim of permanent disfigurement or rape.

I think that Major Shingledecker made a persuasive case that in instances where there is ultimately great bodily harm or death to a child that the misdemeanor provision may not give law enforcement the tools they need. So, I think it's something we'll look at over the coming weeks and then we'll make a recommendation.

The presentation was by given Major Connie Shingledecker with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, who says she hopes lawmakers go along with her idea of increasing the penalties for providing false information:

We want to encourage you to be truth with us so that we can get to the bottom of what's going on. I think if they pass it, it will be helpful.

Shingledecker is also the Chair of the State Child Abuse Death Review Committee. Senator Negron says he hopes to look more into her idea as well as others before making a recommendation to the Florida Senate on whether to purse stricter child protection laws.