By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
March 7, 2013
RALEIGH — The welfare of children was top of the mind in the N.C. House Thursday as members gave their stamp of approval to Caylee’s Law and to a bill that amended a number of the state’s adoption statutes.
Named after Caylee Anthony, the Florida two-year-old who was missing for a month before authorities were notified, H 149 would create the criminal offense of failure to report the disappearance of a child to law enforcement and would make the parent or caregiver responsible guilty of a Class H felony punishment for child abuse if the child wound up seriously injured. It would also increase the penalties for intentionally concealing a child’s death or making a false report to law enforcement regarding a child’s disappearance.
“Of course no one wants what happened in Caylee’s case to ever happen to a child, and while we can’t always prevent it, if there is anything we can do to impress on people the urgency of reporting it whenever there is evidence that a child is missing or in harm’s way, we should do it,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
Bill sponsor Rep. Kelly Hastings (R-Cleveland) had earlier mentioned to the media the sad case of North Carolina’s own Zahra Baker of Hickory who had been missing two weeks before her stepmother reported anything.
The bill, which is headed to the Senate, defines the disappearance of a child as occurring when a parent or other person supervising the child doesn’t know his or her location and hasn’t had contact with the child for at least 24 hours. It would also put teeth into the child abuse reporting law, giving a specific criminal penalty to anyone suspecting that a juvenile is abused, neglected or dependent or has died as the result of maltreatment and failing to report it.
Meanwhile, Amend Adoption Laws, H 147, would clarify a number of procedures involving notifications for consent or relinquishment for adoption. The bill, recommended by the Family Law Section of the N.C. Bar Association, would make clear that consent to adoption is not required from the father of a child conceived during a first-degree rape, rape of a child or second-degree rape.
It would also provide a way for an adoption by a stepparent to be completed even if the stepparent dies before the final decree.
“This would prevent a child, who was in the process of being adopted, from being left out of an inheritance, when it is clear the stepparent intended to make the child his or her own,” said the Rev. Creech. “It would simply allow the courts to complete what the stepparent began before passing away.”
The bill also would give Departments of Social Services direction as to how to handle situations such as when a birth mother signs a relinquishment for the adoption of her child, but it is later revealed that there is a birth father who will not consent and whose parental rights cannot be terminated. The adoption obviously won’t take place, but the agency has been left with responsibility for the child because of the mother’s actions. The proposed law would allow DSS to request that the juvenile court void the birth mother’s relinquishment. Then, if she could not or would not care for her child, DSS would step back in and take appropriate action.
Both the adoption law changes and Caylee’s Law had passed Wednesday out of the Judiciary B Committee, which also took up another bill of interest to the Christian Action League, the Honest Lottery Act, H 156.
Sponsored by the House Majority and Minority leaders, that bill would prohibit lottery advertising at high school and college sporting events, force the lottery to be more forthcoming with odds of winning for each game and modify its advertising to make it more fair. It would also prohibit the addition of more games without Legislative consent.
The measure initially included a provision to drop “Education” from the lottery’s name, but sponsor Paul Stam (R-Wake) agreed to remove that stipulation because of the huge cost of rebranding. The bill remains in Judiciary B and will likely be taken up again next week for further review.