RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia took the first step Monday toward joining a growing list of states considering legislation inspired by public outrage over Casey Anthony's acquittal on murder charges.
The Virginia State Crime Commission directed its staff to draft a version of "Caylee's Law," which would make failure to promptly report a missing child a crime. G. Stewart Petoe, the commission's legal affairs director, said as many as 30 states are considering such legislation after Anthony's acquittal in the death of her 2-year-old daughter Caylee in Florida.
Casey Anthony reportedly denied to relatives that the child was missing, and authorities weren't notified of her disappearance for weeks. Caylee's skeletal remains were found months after she went missing.
The case sparked a national crusade for federal or state laws penalizing parents who fail to report the disappearance or death of a child within 24 hours. Petoe said an online petition backing "Caylee's Law" has received more than 1.25 million signatures.
Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax and chairman of the commission, said she has received an "almost unprecedented" flood of emails from constituents on the subject.
Commission members left details of the legislation to the staff, which will present a draft for the panel's consideration before the 2012 legislative session in January.
Sen. R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania, also said Monday that he will introduce "Caylee's Law."
"Our goal should be to prevent and deter something like the Anthony case from happening in Virginia," Houck said in a statement.
Another child protection measure being considered by the commission would make it illegal for a person to misrepresent his identity or offer something of value to try to lure a child into a vehicle. The bill stalled in the House last winter.
Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, said the bill was prompted by an incident in Culpeper in which a motorist tried to entice children into his vehicle by promising to take them to a theme park. Authorities could not charge the man with violating the state's indecent liberties statute because there was no proof of sexual intent.
"It was just terribly frightening behavior, and everyday citizens find it unthinkable that it's not illegal," Bell said.
Commission members said the challenge is drafting a law that does not unintentionally ensnare "soccer moms" and others who innocently offer a child a ride.
On another matter, the director of Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli's health care fraud unit urged the commission to endorse legislation making Medicaid fraud investigators sworn law enforcement officers with authority to execute search warrants and carry weapons.
Randall L. Clouse said international crime rings are getting involved in Medicaid fraud, making investigators' jobs more dangerous.
"We haven't been shot at yet, thank God," Clouse said, but he noted that a Louisiana insurance agent recently shot and killed two unarmed insurance fraud investigators and then killed himself.
Clouse said expanding the investigators' powers also would free up other law enforcement agencies for other duties.