Raleigh, N.C. — Five years after Florida toddler Caylee Anthony disappeared and was later found dead, North Carolina lawmakers are considering legislation that would make it a crime not to report a missing child in a timely manner.
The House voted unanimously Thursday for House Bill 149, also known as Caylee's Law. The measure now moves to the Senate.
"At the end of the day, what we're trying to do here is save the life of a child," said bill co-sponsor Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, R-Mecklenburg.
Under the legislation, parents and caregivers would be required to report a missing child within 24 hours, and anyone else who suspects that a child is missing also would have to report their suspicions to law enforcement. Failure to do so would be a felony for parents and caregivers and a misdemeanor for third parties.
People acting in good faith who mistakenly report a child as missing would be immune from civil or criminal liability, but any deliberately misleading reports would result in a felony charge.
Casey Anthony failed to report her 2-year-old daughter missing for nearly a month in 2008, and the girl's body was found months later in some nearby woods. Authorities couldn't get enough evidence to convince a jury that Anthony murdered the child, but she was found guilty of lying to a police officer.
"There was plenty of evidence to prove other reprehensible conduct by Casey Anthony, but there were no chargeable offenses," Schaffer said.
A dozen states have since adopted laws requiring people to report missing children, she said.
"Hopefully, this situation won't come up often, but it is going to come up," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland. "(The bill) is really aimed not at the general public, but it is aimed at people who know what's happening in the house and fail to do something.
"(They) know what's happening in a family and sit by and watch abuse and potentially a death of a child when they could have intervened, should have intervened and didn't intervene," Glazier said. "We're not after someone who just didn't know what to do or had some minor amount of information or who were scared to act. This is about people who should know (and) deliberately made a decision not to get involved."
The bill also creates penalties for failure to report child abuse or concealing the death of a child.