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Bill would create misdemeanor child neglect offense in WV

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A bill moving through the West Virginia House of Delegates would create a misdemeanor offense for child neglect.

House Bill 2460, sponsored by Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, would reorganize some things in current statute and create a three-level misdemeanor offense for neglect that could result in harm to the child. The bill was amended and voted out of the House Judiciary Committee Feb. 25.

According to the legislation, first offense child neglect would lead to a $500-$1,000 fine or 30-60 days in jail, as well as a parenting education class. A second offense includes a fine of up to $1,000 and 30 days to one year in jail while a third offense becomes a felony, bringing with it one to three years in prison.

Although language in the bill defines the term neglect, Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, wanted to know if a child's diet and subsequent health problems could be considered neglect. He pointed out that in some cases, parents can't afford to feed their children properly. Committee counsel Brian Skinner said under language in the bill, a child's diet could be considered in cases of neglect.

"So a parent who has limited economic resources to take care of the child's nutrition needs could find themselves faced with a $500 minimum fine?" Shott asked counsel.

A misdemeanor charge would be appropriate in cases of malnutrition or other non-emergency issues, Skinner said.

Shott later added an amendment to the bill that would decrease the $500 fine to $100, saying lowering the fine would give the judge more discretion.

"This amendment is intended to give the judge more discretion in the case of a parent who may have extremely poor economic circumstance beyond their control and the neglect stems from the inability of that parent to provide whatever necessities the child has. $500 will be difficult for any parent in that circumstance," Shott said.

A second amendment offered by Delegate John Ellem, R-Wood, would not require those convicted of a child neglect misdemeanor to register on the child abuse and neglect database. Ellem said having people convicted of a first-offense misdemeanor to register on the database would be "too extreme."

Both amendments were adopted. The bill will be referred to the House Finance Committee.