Bills to stiffen child abuse laws introduced

Published 9:27 am Wednesday, February 15, 2012

By Jason Schoonover and Amanda Lillie, staff writers

AUSTIN — Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, introduced the legislation to the House Monday, and Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, introduced a matching bill Feb. 8 to change one word in the false imprisonment statute to lower the standard for what’s considered a felony.

Talk of drafting legislation for harsher punishment was spurred by last year’s sentencing of Dexter couple, Brian and Charity Miller, who chained their now 6-year-old son to his crib and withheld food and bathroom access from him and his 8-year-old brother.

Email newsletter signup

“In the case of the chained children, we would have been able to have charged a felony where we couldn’t have before,” County Attorney Kristen Nelsen previously said.

The bill would change essentially one word: “substantial bodily harm” to “demonstrable bodily harm.”

The Millers were convicted of gross misdemeanors and served a year in jail. Minnesota statute did not allow a felony charge based on the nature of the Millers’ crimes because “substantial bodily harm” did not occur.

A felony would be the charge in similar cases if the new legislation passed. Both bills were introduced and are being discussed in committees.