On the heels of the highly publicized Casey Anthony trial earlier this summer, state legislatures throughout the country have moved toward creating laws that would increase punishments for parents who conceal or fail to report a child's disappearance within a reasonable amount of time, their own variations on the so-called "Caylee's Law."
Illinois now joins states including Florida, Maryland, Alabama, Colorado, California, Wisconsin and a number of others who have called for such laws. Sixteen states introduced their variations on the law within a week of the announcement of Anthony's verdict on July 5.
As the Herald & Review reports, House Bill 3799, introduced in late July by state Rep. Karen May (D-Highwood), would punish parents or legal guardians who fail to report a child under 13 years of age as missing within a 24 hour period with a Class 4 felony. House Bill 3800, filed Aug. 4 by state Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Freeport) is practically identical to May's proposal, though it adds a Class 4 felony punishment for a parent or legal guardian who fails to report the believed death of a child under 18 years of age under their care. Finally, House Bill 3801, also filed Aug. 4 by Thomas Holbrook (D-Belleville), contains all the content of the previous two proposals, plus an "act of God, act of war" clause.
Holbrook's bill, as of Tuesday, has thus far gained the most traction, attracting nine co-sponsors to date.
Among those Illinois lawmakers who have taken action on the proposals are Rep. David Leitch (R-Peoria), a co-sponsor of Sacia's bill. According to the Herald & Review, Leitch received some 400 emails from constituents asking him to take action after Anthony was found not guilty in the death of her daughter.
"There is a groundswell of anger over the tragedy," Leitch told the Herald & Review. "We need to be sure to craft something that works and makes sense."
But other lawmakers are not so convinced that a "Caylee's Law" is necessary for Illinois. Last month, state Rep. Jason Barickman (R-Pontiac) told WJBC that, though many of his constituents had also urged him to support such a law, doing so would be a "knee-jerk reaction to rush out to judgment and say we need to get a law in place."
"Instead maybe what we ought to do is really encourage parents to do the right thing and be good parents," Barickman added to WJBC.
The Illinois law could come up for a vote sometime after General Assembly reconvenes in October.
A Change.org petition calling for a "Caylee's Law" in Illinois has, as of Tuesday, received 47 signatures. A Facebook page with a similar aim has been "liked" by 71 people to date. For comparison, the federal Change.org petition, initiated by Ohio activist Michelle Crowder, has gone viral and has been signed nearly 1,300,000 times.
Huffington Post reporter Radley Balko last month wrote that such hasty, emotion-driven efforts to create laws are, often, "a bad way to make public policy" in a piece critical of both the one-hour and 24-hour rules contained in the majority of the state level proposals. Balko continued:
"The law and the attention it attracts could also cause problems of overcompliance. How many parents will notify the authorities with false reports within an hour or two, out of fear of becoming suspects? How many such calls and wasted police resources on false alarms will it take before police grow jaded and begin taking note of missing child reports, but don't bother investigating them until much later? ... It isn't difficult to come up with other scenarios where innocent people may get ensnared in Caylee's Law."
In some of the states where such proposals have been introduced, they have garnered a majority of supporters. The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that, according to a Quinnipiac University survey, the Florida law was supported by 83 percent of the state's voters. An Angus Reid Public Opinion poll last month reported that 69 percent of respondents nationwide wanted to see similar laws passed in their states of residence.