TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In the two months since Orlando resident Casey Anthony was acquitted of murdering her two-year-old daughter, an outraged public has prompted Florida lawmakers to file more than a half-dozen bills related to her case.
Most bills are called "Caylee's Law" and are designed to stiffen penalties for parents not reporting a child missing within a certain time period. Casey Anthony allegedly did not report her child missing for a month.
The emotionally fraught issue, poised to be in the legislative spotlight, is being examined by a special Senate panel in advance of the session that starts in January. At its first meeting Monday, lawmakers studied whether existing laws already offer ways to punish parents for not reporting missing children.
"In my view, the committee is not here to second-guess the jury," said Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chair of the Select Committee on Protecting Florida's Children. "They rendered what they believe was a fair and just verdict and.I believe their efforts should be respected."
Negron said the committee's duty was to figure out if the law was even needed.
Lawmakers are wary of repeating possible missteps made with the Jessica Lunsford Act, a law passed quickly in 2005 after the abduction and killing of nine-year-old Lunsford by a registered sex offender. That law prompted much stricter monitoring and registration of sex offenders.
But the law has also led to some unintended consequences, such as severe restrictions on where sex offenders can live that left dozens of Miami sex offenders with no place to live but under the Julia Tuttle Causeway.
Negron pointed out that an existing state law on child neglect that prohibits the "failure or omission" to care for a child's physical and mental health could have been used against Casey Anthony but prosecutors elected not to.
Anthony was not charged with child neglect, Negron said, and said prosecutors probably did that for "valid reasons."
"Before we start talking about new laws, I want to look at the laws we have," Negron said.
Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, who sits on the special committee to examine policy changes on missing children, said after the verdict "we as legislators, like citizens, were very emotional."
"Sometimes when we do those things and decide to legislate through emotions we have problems," Smith said.
Lawmakers have filed at least eight bills related to the Casey Anthony case in Florida, and at least 25 other states have filed or are considering filing similar legislation. Most of the bills in Florida focus on making it a felony to not report a missing child quickly the bills would require reporting anywhere between 12 and 48 hours after the child goes missing. The bills also make it a felony to not timely report a child's death.
Two-year-old Caylee Anthony was reported missing in July 2008 and was found dead in December 2008. Both the search for her and the ensuing trial of her mother for murder captured the attention of the nation.
At Monday's committee meeting Donna Uzzell, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's director of criminal justice information systems, which oversees a database of missing children in Florida, said it was rare for a parent to not promptly report a child as missing.
"It was not the common practice that a parent did not report a child when it was determined they were missing," Uzzell said. In the few instances it does happen, she said, it is because the child is believed to be with another parent or thought there was a mandatory waiting period before reporting a missing child.
Uzzell said parents of missing children feel a bigger problem than not reporting a child missing, as Casey Anthony reportedly did, is when a parent falsely reports a child as missing when the child is instead deceased.
Negron said the committee will deliver recommendations to the Senate by the end of the year. The legislative session begins in January. "We want to be careful and thoughtful and prudent," he said.
The House has bills filed on the issue, but doesn't have a similar committee.