Child abuse bill hooks to vulnerable adult bill

Published 11:46 am Friday, March 30, 2012

The child abuse bill may persevere in the state legislature, riding along with another piece of legislation.

The bill, which did not make the March 23 hearing deadline to stay alive this legislative session, will now be considered by a joint House/Senate Conference Committee. The bill was amended to the existing vulnerable adults bill on Tuesday, said Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin. It passed the House floor, 128-4.

Poppe has been fighting to advance the child abuse bill through the House this legislative session, while Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, pushed in the Senate. Poppe’s next goal will be to educate those who will make up the Conference Committee. The conferees have not yet been named for the House side, she said, but are named on the Senate.

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“Sen. Dan Sparks is working to make sure people on the committee are more familiar with the case,” Poppe said. It will be be up to the Conference Committee to agree to the language added or not.

The House has not yet seen the last of the bill. It will return for hearing after it goes through the committee.

“Both the House and the Senate would be able to vote on that bill,” Poppe said.

The amendment was one of two possible ways the bill could be saved for this legislative session. Normally, bills not heard in either the Senate or House by the deadline — in this case Friday, March 23 — would not be part of this legislative session. Having missed that deadline, the child abuse bill either needed to be amended to another bill or granted an exception.

Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chair Warren Limmer said the day of deadline last week he would request an exception so the bill could be heard in committee.

While it’s still possible for the Senate Rules and Administration Committee will grant the exception, Poppe said it’s not as likely now that the bill is in the Conference Committee.

Sparks said Monday Limmer’s request for an exception was a good sign.

“We were excited to hear the news late Friday,” Sparks said. Exceptions happen very rarely, he added.

The Conference Committee can begin its consideration as soon as its members are chosen, Poppe said. She predicts that may take place Friday or early next week.

The child abuse bill would change the phrase “substantial bodily harm” to “demonstrable bodily harm” in regard to parental restraint of a child. It was spurred by the sentencing of Brian and Charity Miller last July. The parents were convicted of chaining their 6-year-old son to his crib and withholding food and bathroom access from him and his 8-year-old brother.