State Rep. Tony Shipley’s attempt to pass a “Caylee Anthony Act” in Tennessee was exiled to a summer study committee on Wednesday.
A House Judiciary subcommittee made that decision on a voice vote following a motion by state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.
Under current state law, whenever a parent knows their child is missing, the parent must report the child to a police or sheriff’s office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and make a statement to the agency to recover the child. The law defines “child” as under 21 years old.
Shipley’s bill — named for the 2-year-old Florida girl who was reported missing in July 2008 and then found dead the following December — tried to create a new felony offense for a parent failing to “make all reasonable efforts” to report a missing child within 24 hours.
But state Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, expressed his discomfort with the legislation and added there are a “whole host of domestic law issues” in the bill.
“We may well be in new legal ground here because we’re talking about the duty of a parent,” Shipley, R-Kingsport, said. “You talk about duties that are codified in law. I’m talking about a duty that is codified in right and wrong that is given to us by a higher power. It puts us in an interesting place of leadership in the legislature. We can choose to talk about the legal principles of which you are speaking and of which I concur, by the way ... or we can speak to a higher purpose we are here for and that is to protect the life of a child and do everything we can to see that happens. I believe in that higher duty.”
Dennis, an attorney, responded by noting Shipley’s bill might be “wide open” to be abused in split households.
“If dad has got his weekend visitation and is supposed to be back on Sunday at 6, and he doesn’t return the child ... is that child missing?” he asked.
Shipley argued the matter of a missing child should be put before a judge and jury.
“This is such an egregious offense,” Shipley said. “I think the bottom line is we ask these parents to take a proactive position and notify the authorities. ... What price the life of a child?”
Moving the bill to summer study essentially buries it for the year, but Shipley pledged to pursue the legislation later.
“I’m satisfied we raised the public debate and had that discussion, but I’m not overly disappointed. ... We’ll continue to talk about it,” he said of the bill after the vote.
So-called “Caylee’s Law” legislation has been filed in more than a dozen states since the much-publicized murder trial and acquittal of Caylee Anthony’s mother, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Last January, New Jersey became the first state to enact a Caylee’s Law creating a fourth-degree felony for a parent failing to report a child’s disappearance to police more than 24 hours after becoming aware of the disappearance. A “child” means a person 13 years of age or younger in the New Jersey law.
According to the TBI, there has been an average of 8,318 reports of missing children in each of the last four years. As of July 31, 2011, there were 105 active missing children cases. The Tennessee Department of Correction estimated two offenders each year would be convicted as a result of Shipley’s bill.
For more information, go to www.capitol.tn.gov. Shipley’s bill is HB 2162.