During a tour of the Watson Children's Shelter in Missoula, Senator John Walsh today announced legislation to protect children by strengthening federal child endangerment laws.
The Protecting Children from Interstate Child Endangerment Act corrects the inconsistencies across state child abuse laws and creates a uniform federal law for prosecutors to federally prosecute child abusers. Currently, laws vary from state to state making it difficult to prosecute offenders who cross state lines.
"This bill gives law enforcement the tools they need to keep our children safe from negligence and abuse," Walsh said. "Having a uniform child endangerment law across the country will ensure every child will have equal access to justice, and it will make our communities a safer place to raise our families."
During Walsh's time as Lieutenant Governor, Governor Steve Bullock signed into law legislation expanding Montana's child protection laws, creating a new offense of criminal endangerment to prevent child abuse in the state.
Walsh's bill uses the Montana state law as a model for federal policy and creates offenses for the following forms of child endangerment, which currently do not carry a federal penalty:
· Placing children up to age 14 in the physical custody of individuals who are known to have purposely or knowingly caused bodily injury to a child.
· Operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or controlled substance, in violation of the law of the State in which the motor vehicle is being operated, while the child is in the motor vehicle.
The federal law would establish a penalty of $50,000 and/or 10 years in prison.
What Montanans are saying about Walsh's bill:
"Working with over 1,000 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault ever year, we see very clearly the devastating effects of child abuse on victims and their families," said Melinda Reed, Executive Director of the Friendship Center in Helena. "This new law will provide much needed protection to children across the country, and hold abusers accountable with tough new penalties."
"Thank you Senator Walsh for sponsoring a bill that will create consistency across state child abuse laws," said Paula Samms, Director of the Lewis and Clark Child Advocacy Center of AWARE Inc. "Hundreds of children a year tell us the details of the abuse they have suffered at the hands of the adults they have trusted. These adults need to be prosecuted and these children need to be protected."