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'Caylee's Law' petition drive: Do missing child laws need to change?

'Caylee's Law' petition calls for establishing two new federal offenses: failure of a parent to notify authorities of a missing child within 24 hours and failure to report a child's death within one hour. The online drive comes amid public anger over the Casey Anthony verdict.

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On Fox News’s "The O'Reilly Factor" on Wednesday night, host Bill O’Reilly duked it out with guest Geraldo Rivera over the verdict. “The mother has the 2-year-old in the house. The 2-year-old is gone. The mother says nothing and lies about it. Come on, that’s neglect,” he exclaimed.

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But is a Caylee's Law really needed?

Current federal law requires police to report each case of a missing child to the National Crime Information Center. If the missing person is under age 21, the law requires police to file the case immediately, omitting the waiting period for filing cases on missing adults. The law was modified during the Bush administration to allow immediate reporting of young people between ages 18 and 21, after 19-year-old Suzanne Lyall, a student at State University of New York at Albany, went missing in 1998.

Every state has statutes requiring certain individuals, such as social workers, teachers or physicians, to report suspected child abuse in particular circumstances, but no statute or federal law currently exists that requires someone to report a missing person or child.

“There’s an incredible number of laws named after tragic incidents involving children,” says Mr. Yung. “By and large, these statutes are born out of rage and often passed by majority, without debate.”

The Caylee's Law petition has prompted several lawmakers to learn more about their own states' requirements for reporting missing children.

“I was shocked to find that we don’t have such a law in Oklahoma,” says state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft (R), who says he has been receiving many e-mails and petitions from constituents who are angry about the Anthony verdict.

“’I’m not surprised about the outrage, because I’m outraged,” Mr. Wesselhoft says. He intends to introduce a bill during Oklahoma's 2012 legislative session that would require a parent or legal guardian to notify authorities within 24 hours if a child is missing or deceased.

“If my bill were a law in Florida, then Casey Anthony would be facing another six months or a year in jail,” says Wesselhoft, who suggests that measures inspired by the Caylee’s Law petition would be more appropriate at the state, rather than the federal, level. States investigate and prosecute most cases of child abuse, neglect, or death.


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