AUGUSTA, Maine — A pair of bills requiring notification of authorities when a child is missing drew support Thursday from Gov. Paul LePage, police and lawmakers who said they have been flooded with emails since last year’s event that inspired the proposals: the disappearance of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony in Florida.
Testimony before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee also included references to a case much closer to home, the disappearance of 20-month old Ayla Reynolds of Waterville just over a month ago. While that unsolved case is about a missing child, Ayla was reported gone hours from the time she was last seen, not a month it took Caylee Anthony’s mother to report her child missing.
Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony, was acquitted of murder last summer.
Since that time, outraged citizens around Maine have demanded legislation to prevent that happening in their state, “to send a clear message that such neglect will not be tolerated,” said Rep. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, who spoke in favor of both bills.
One bill would make failing to report a missing child within 24 hours a crime, and the other would make it a crime to fail to report a missing child under 13 years old within 48 hours.
Quick reporting of a missing child is key to either finding the child or successfully investigating an abduction, Winthrop police Chief Joe Young, representing the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, told the committee.
“It’s reprehensible to think a parent or guardian would not know the whereabouts of their children at all times,” said Young.
The sponsor of the bill setting a 48-hour limit, Rep. Anna Blodgett, D-Augusta, said Joseph Massey, the police chief in Waterville, the city where extensive searches for Ayla Reynolds have been conducted, told her he’s “very supportive” of her proposal.
The governor’s legal counsel, Dan Billings, said LePage supports both bills, adding they should be seen not as “a reaction to the headlines” about what happened in Florida but rather a hedge against a similar event in Maine.
Not everybody at the hearing agreed.
Representing the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Walter McKee said the bills surfaced without even anecdotal evidence that there’s a problem in Maine with delayed reporting of missing children.
“This is really and truly a solution in search of a problem,” said McKee.
While not taking a hard a stand against the bills, the Maine Criminal Law Advisory Commission urged caution as lawmakers deliberate the proposals.
Representing the legislatively created commission, John Pelletier said very few Maine statutes call for mandatory reporting, which “can have many unforeseen consequences.”
For example, the bills if not carefully crafted could make parents who fail to tell police that their child died of a disease guilty of a crime.
Pelletier advised lawmakers to “take a limited step, be on the guard for unforeseen consequences.”