PIERRE, S.D. — Lawmakers in South Dakota want parents or guardians of a missing or dead child to file a report within a short time frame or else face prosecution.
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill Tuesday that gives parents or guardians 48 hours to report a missing child or else face a misdemeanor charge. Those who knowingly fail to report a death within six hours could face a felony.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said the bill is modeled after "Caylee's Law," which is based on the high-profile case of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony and is still passing through the Florida Legislature. Anthony's mother didn't report her missing for a month.
Jackley said the state dealt with its own case last year when a mother in Winner, located in south central South Dakota, gave birth to a child and left the child to die in a bathroom. "We prosecuted the mother for manslaughter and desertion of a child," Jackley said. "So this isn't something that just happens nationwide. It happens here in South Dakota."
Jackley said the Florida bill has relevancy in South Dakota, which could use a statute for dealing with the abandonment, desertion or missing a missing child.
Though in Florida the bill specifies a 24-hour window to report a missing child, the South Dakota version provides a second day because of the state's vastness, Jackley said. Florida penalizes parents or guardians who knowingly fail to report a child's death within two hours, but South Dakota will allow six hours if made into law.
Lindsey Riter-Rapp, a lobbyist with the South Dakota Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, testified against the bill. She described it as too broad and had concern with unintended consequences, especially when dealing with Native American families versus non-Native American families. Jackley said a case involving an American Indian person on a reservation would be handled by the tribe's attorney general.
In her testimony, Riter-Rapp also said "we all respond to stressful situations in different ways. Women who give birth to a child at home, and let's say the child is born with the cord wrapped around its neck, they are not alive. I can't imagine what that would feel like and how I would respond." She suggested adding a "safety valve" that would exempt people in these situations.
Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City, didn't see an opportunity for erroneous convictions. "I think there are generous time limits here — we could discuss whether too generous," he said. "I doubt that we're going to trap innocent people in the net of this bill and I believe it's an additional tool that will be useful for law enforcement in the criminal justice system."
The South Dakota bill passed the Senate committee on a 6-1 vote and will go next to the Senate floor.