Two Democratic state legislators said today they will introduce legislation that would implement “Caylee’s Law” in Tennessee. The bill, named after a 2-year-old Florida girl whose death led to the murder trial of her mother in Florida, would make it a crime for parents not to report missing children.
Republican state Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville, meanwhile, has told a TV station that he plans to introduce a “Caylee’s Law” as well. Haynes is traveling out of the country today and was not available for comment on the Democratic proposal, according to his legislative secretary.
Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony, was found not guilty last week in a highly-publicized trial in Florida, though she had acknowledged not reporting the child’s death to authorities.
The jury verdict in the Casey Anthony trial has sparked a national movement to enact a “Caylee’s Law” in multiple states.
(In Tennessee, the proposals come after after Gov. Bill Haslam called for legislators to reduce the number of bills filed, noting there are sometimes multiple bills introduced on the same subject. House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey have voiced support for a reduction in bill filings, also noting there are often several bills on the same topic.)
More than 11 million people nationwide have signed an online petition supporting Caylee’s law.
The Democratic legislators’ press release is below.
From the Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – State Sen. Eric Stewart (D-Belvidere) and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) announced Monday that they are filing a bill to make it a punishable crime when parents or guardians fail to timely notify authorities when a child under their care is missing.
“As Tennessee lawmakers, we cannot do anything to change the outcome of the Casey Anthony trial in Florida, but we can and should strengthen our laws here in Tennessee,” Stewart said. “If a child is missing, the authorities should be notified immediately, not one day or 30 days later.”
The bill, known as “Caylee’s Law,” requires that authorities be notified as soon as a parent or guardian has reason to believe that a child within their custody or care has gone missing. Currently, Tennessee law (TCA 37-10-202) requires parents to report such information, but does not provide any means for enforcement.
Under Fitzhugh and Stewart’s bill, failure to notify authorities would constitute a misdemeanor. In situations in which bodily injury or death of the child resulted, the crime would be elevated to a felony.
Tennessee currently participates in the AMBER Alert system, which brings the state’s law enforcement community, media broadcasting agencies and the public together to locate missing and abducted children. Those resources can’t be used, however, until the parent or guardian picks up the phone and notifies authorities.
“With any missing person’s case, and especially with children, every second counts,” Fitzhugh said. “If a child in our state is missing, we want authorities to be able to begin searching immediately. This law would make it a crime for any parent or guardian to delay the process that could bring a child to safety.”
Stewart and Fitzhugh said they are speaking with district attorneys and legislative lawyers to determine reporting timeline requirements that could vary based on the age of the child.
The bill follows last week’s verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, which garnered national attention after the mother waited 31 days to report that her 2-year-old daughter Caylee had gone missing. The girl’s remains were later found near her Florida home.