A new bill in the state legislature would make it a felony for a parent or guardian not to immediately report their missing child.
If adopted it would impose a two-year maximum jail sentence and a $5,000 fine against a parent or guardian who does not report the disappearance of their child to authorities.
The Senate Judiciary Committee adopted the bill unanimously and it will now head to the full Michigan Senate for consideration.
The bill comes after the death of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony in Florida, who went missing for 31 days before her mother, Casey Anthony, reported the disappearance to authorities. Caylee was found dead five months later.
“It’s a natural consequence of the (Anthony) case,” Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics and a former Griffin Endowed Chair, said.
Central Michigan University Griffin Endowed Chair in American Government professor Maxine Berman agreed.
“(State lawmakers) are trying to prevent another Casey Anthony case, in order to make sure that people who don’t know where their kids are, for whatever reason, have an obligation to go look for them or call the police,” Berman said.
Berman said she supports the bill, but questions how pressing of an issue it is.
“The instincts of the bill are good, but I don’t know how common of a problem it actually is,” Berman said.
There has been pressure from citizens on lawmakers to act to prevent cases like Anthony’s, Ballenger said.
A petition for a federal law to make it a felony to not report a missing child was the fastest growing petition in the history of the website change.org.
Ballenger, however, said it is best for state governments to deal with this issue.
“It’s probably better … to attempt to solve the problem state by state rather than having a one-size-fits-all federal mandate,” Ballenger said.
The Mount Pleasant Police Department takes each missing child report on a case-by-case basis, Public Information Officer Jeff Browne said.
“We may search the area with police cars or on foot, we may enlist the help of the search team, but we may call in a K-9 tracking dog,” Browne said. “It’s just, unfortunately, a case-by-case scenario.”
Browne said he supports the bill, but is upset that legislation has to be adopted to force parents to report their missing child.
“I would think most parents would report their child was missing, so I think it’s unfortunate that they have to pass legislation to do as such,” Browne said.