Dayton expected to sign child abuse bill today

Governor Mark Dayton was expected to sign a bill tightening the penalty for child abuse at a 10:15 a.m. signing ceremony today at the state capitol in St. Paul.

Bill author Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, and Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, are expected to be present. Sheriff Terese Amazi, Detective Steve Sandvik and possibly other officials from Mower County will also attend.

The bill, which began as a standalone piece of legislation and was later attached to the vulnerable adult bill, cleared the House on a 122-0 vote and the Senate on a 58-0 vote. If the bill receives Dayton’s signature, it will become law.

The bill’s final hearing in each legislative body came after a joint Conference Committee reworded the proposed “demonstrable bodily harm” clause to hold a new, midterm tier separate from “substantial bodily harm.” The new tier is punishable by two years in prison and up to a $4,000 fine, in contrast with five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for “substantial” bodily harm. Both are felonies.

“It tightens the law and ensures future incidents like the case in Mower County can be charged and punished to more appropriately fit the crime,” Poppe said after the committee passed the bill.

The bill was spurred to life by the sentencing of Dexter parents Brian and Charity Miller last July. The parents were convicted of chaining their then 5-year-old son to his crib and withholding food and bathroom access from him and his 8-year-old brother. They could only be charged with a gross misdemeanor because of the need for “substantial” bodily harm.

Amazi and Sandvik, along with Mower County Attorney Kristen Nelsen, testified before a House committee in March using evidence from the case.

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