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O'Ms bill to criminalize child neglect moves forward

Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to create a law against child neglect ignited a robust debate within the some in Democratic caucus on the Senate floor this morning, with a few urban members arguing that the measure would criminalize poor families and disproportionally impact African-Americans.

O'Malley's plan was to create a new felony child neglect statute -- but the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee downgraded the proposed crime to a misdemeanor and included a provision differentiating between "neglect" and "poverty." One committee added provision reads: "Neglect does not include the failure to provide necessary resources ... due to solely to lack of financial resources or homelessness." 

Still Baltimore County's Delores G. Kelley argued that the bill is superfluous since existing child abuse statues protect minors. She would prefer families have access to parenting classes and other resources  that would relieve the conditions under which neglect occurs.

O'Ms bill to criminalize child neglect moves forward



"You'll have huge numbers of families drawn into the criminal justice system," said Kelley, a Democrat. "When we criminalize these parents ... all we do is make it harder for them to bond with these children."

Kelley argued that at the end of the day, the children will likely end up with the parents and the state would be better served by educating the adults.

But JPR Chairman Brian Frosh said the proposed rule cures a loophole in current law: Child abuse cases must demonstrate physical harm to the victim. More subtle forms of abuse, like intentional malnutrition or locking a child in a closet for a prolong period, would not necessarily trigger the existing abuse statutes, he said.

"Some of this outrageous behavior can not be charged," said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat.

The bill received preliminary approval in the Senate and House this morning. 


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