By Michael Peltier
TALLAHASSEE, Fla (Reuters) - In response to the jury acquittal of Casey Anthony in her 2-year-old daughter's death, Florida lawmakers convened on Monday to determine if additional laws are needed to prevent a repeat of what many saw as an unjust verdict.
Meeting for the first time, members of a new Senate committee outlined a set of guidelines for the panel to consider when deciding whether to enact laws to bolster penalties for failing to report a missing child.
Florida law now requires reporting only in the event of a child's death.
"I think we need to proceed in a thoughtful and prudent way, and we need to first determine if there is a need for some additional criminal penalties," said Republican Senator Joe Negron, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Protecting Florida's Children.
In a case that drew international attention, authorities in Orlando charged Casey Anthony with the 2008 murder of her daughter Caylee, who was missing a month before her disappearance was reported.
Anthony's nationally televised trial this summer ended with the 25-year-old being acquitted of the murder but found guilty of lying to investigators.
Negron stressed the committee would not spend time second-guessing the prosecution strategy or the verdict, which has spawned "Caylee's law" proposals in several states.
"They rendered what they believed was a fair and just verdict," Negron said of the jury decision. "Absent legal cause, their efforts should be respected."
Over the next several weeks, the committee will consider a handful of bills already filed in the state legislature. Most would bolster penalties for those who fail to report the disappearance of a child, varying only in the amount of time that must lapse before it becomes a crime.
State law enforcement officials cautioned that clamping down too tightly could result in a flurry of false or erroneous reports from well-meaning citizens, combative relatives, parents and caregivers of children.
Negron said a case can be made to strengthen Florida law as it relates to child neglect, saying the failure to timely report a child's disappearance would fall squarely into that category of neglect.
"How can you supervise a child if you don't know where it is?" Negron said.
Lawmakers and witnesses offered some sobering thoughts on the ability of the state to effectively legislate child protection.
"Some people don't want to take care of their children," said Calvester Anderson, a member of Justice-2-Jesus, a political action committee and frequent government accountability critic.
"That is unfortunate. You can't make a rule or statute or anything on the books to make parents care for their children."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)