TALLAHASSEE, Fla. --
Proposals to strengthen penalties against parents for not reporting a missing child right away could have disastrous consequences, according to several law enforcement officials who testified Monday at a Senate panel charged with examining "Caylee's Law" bills.
The Select Committee on Protecting Florida's Children was convened in the aftermath of the much publicized Casey Anthony murder trial this summer. The Orlando woman was charged with murdering her 2-year-old daughter but was found not guilty by a jury, sparking outrage and a cry for legislative reform.
In reaction to the acquittal, several Florida lawmakers filed bills that would make it a felony to not report a child missing within a certain time frame, with proposals ranging from 12 hours to 48 hours. The committee is trying to determine if there is a need for a Caylee's Law bill. There is no similar committee in the House.
But law enforcement officials invited to testify before the Senate committee said instilling a strict time limit to report a child missing could actually have the opposite of the intended effect.
One Senate proposal that requires parents to report a child missing within 48 hours could be confusing, said Connie Shingledecker, a major with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office who oversees child abuse and death cases.
"It could have the unintended consequence of confusing parents and having them feel they have to wait 48 hours to report," Shingledecker said. "Any time you put a time frame on situations like this, it can be confusing."
Already, law enforcement officials say many parents delay reporting their children missing because they are under the mistaken assumption they have to wait 24 hours to do so. Adding another requirement into law would only confuse parents further, said representatives from several sheriffs' offices.
And just because a parent calls 911, that doesn't mean a law enforcement officer has been notified, adding another wrinkle to the proposed law that could unintentionally cause some parents to violate the law.
Instead, law enforcement officers pressed the committee to consider strengthening penalties for lying to law enforcement officers during an investigation of a missing, endangered or murdered child.
"We'd like another tool in our toolbox," said Sheriff Jeffrey Dawsy of Citrus County.
Anthony was found guilty of providing false information to a law enforcement officer, a misdemeanor. Law enforcement officials say they would like to see the penalty increased from a misdemeanor to a second-degree felony, which carries with it the potential for more prison time than a misdemeanor would.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the chairman of the committee, pressed law enforcement officials for details on how common it is for a parent to not report a child missing for an extensive period of time. One criticism of Caylee's Law proposals is that the bills may address a nonexistent problem based on the rare example of Casey Anthony.
"We do have parents who fail to report their children as missing and usually it is because they have some culpability," Shingledecker said. "They are impaired and have left kids with folks they don?t even know."
But she acknowledged that instances like the Casey Anthony case, where 2-year-old Caylee Anthony was not reported missing for a month and a body wasn't found until nearly six months later, are "very rare."
Negron said the committee will likely meet one more time before developing recommendations on whether a Caylee's Law was needed and if so, what it should contain.
Copyright 2011 by WESH.COM. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.