TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A bill inspired by one of the Florida's most notorious criminal cases, the disappearance and death of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony, went to Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday.
The legislation would increase the penalty for making a false statement to police about a missing child from a year in jail to five years in prison.
Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, last year was acquitted of murdering the toddler but convicted on four counts of lying to investigators about her missing daughter in 2008.
She could have received a 20-year sentence if the bill had been in effect then, but she was credited with time served while in jail awaiting trial and released.
The bill (HB 37) received a unanimous final vote from the Florida Senate without discussion or debate. It passed the House, also unanimously, on Feb. 29.
After public outrage over Casey Anthony's acquittal, Senate President Mike Haridopolos created the Select Committee on Protecting Florida's Children to determine if any changes should be made in Florida law.
The panel chaired by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, examined but rejected the idea of setting deadlines for reporting a missing child or the death of a child to authorities as proposed in several other bills, some of them titled "Caylee's Law."
Caylee was not reported missing until 31 days after she vanished.
Law enforcement officials said a 24-hour or 48-hour deadline could result in unintended consequences. They were worried parents might misunderstand and think they could not call police until a child had been missing that long.
That's already a common misunderstanding although current law does not require parents to hold off on reporting missing children for any period of time, Citrus County Sheriff Jeffery Dawsy told Negron's panel in October.
"We've been trying to beat that dead horse down left and right, and we just haven't done an effective job," Dawsy said.
Authorities urge parents to report missing children immediately.
That hasn't stopped lawmakers in at least 16 other states from also considering Caylee's Law legislation setting such deadlines. As in Florida, though, many of those efforts have failed or stalled over worries the proposals were too broad, and in some cases, not necessary.
Law enforcement officials say it is rare that a missing or deceased child is not reported. It mainly happens when the parent or caregiver has some culpability, Manatee County Sheriff's Maj. Connie Shingledecker told the Senate panel.
Eighty-five percent of the 40,000 missing child reports received in Florida annually are due to runaways and many children generate multiple reports, said Mike Ramage, general counsel of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He said only 1 percent of missing children are under 10 and just 2 percent are endangered.
"Prior to the Caylee situation we had not been hearing a great deal of fury of the need to change the law," Ramage told lawmakers, urging them not to react to a single case.
The Florida bill does not even use the term "Caylee's Law," and during his panel's hearings, Negron studiously avoided mentioning Caylee or Casey Anthony, referring to it only as "the Orlando case" or the "Orange County case."
"Our charge was really to look at the whole system," Negron said. "Our purpose isn't to second-guess a particular jury."
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