Archived Story

Child abuse bill awaits final OK

Published 9:51am Thursday, April 5, 2012

A push to tighten Minnesota child abuse legislation is nearing fruition.

A joint House and Senate Conference Committee passed a reworded child abuse bill Wednesday morning, attached as an amendment to the vulnerable adult bill.

“I’m very pleased,” said Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, who authored the House bill to heighten the penalty on child abuse. “The public servants did their job. We are grateful to them for stepping in.”

Poppe acknowledged the testimonies of several Mower County officials, including Sheriff Terese Amazi, County Attorney Kristen Nelsen and sheriff’s detective Steve Sandvik, as being instrumental to her efforts.

Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, had introduced and shepherded a matching bill in the Senate.

The bill was brought into existence as a reaction to the sentencing of Dexter parents Brian and Charity Miller last July. The parents were convicted of chaining their 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.

“This is a case of a little boy telling a story and his teacher reporting it to authorities,” she said in a statement. “Locally, every public servant involved in this case stepped up on behalf of these young boys.”

The committee changed the language of the bill, separating the “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 would be felonies.

The bill will come before both the House and Senate once more in its reworded form. Poppe said it’s likely the bill will pass on both counts. After, the bill will be sent to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature.

Sparks said the Senate would likely vote on the bill Thursday.

“There were challenges along with way but in the end this is an acceptable resolution,” Poppe said. “We are appreciative to House and Senate conferees for including the provision in the final report.

“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, which was our main objective.”

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