March 4, 2004

Legislature passes Austin bill toughening child neglect penalties

INDIANAPOLIS --- Indiana's penalties toward those who neglect and abuse children will be getting tougher in the near future, according to State Rep. Terri Austin (D-Anderson).

House Bill 1245, co-authored by Austin, increases the penalty for neglect of a dependent to a Class A Felony if the neglect results in the death of a child. The legislation received resounding support from both the Indiana House and Senate and is eligible for consideration in the near future by Indiana Gov. Joe Kernan.

"With the recent news surrounding the case of Jennifer Norris, House Bill 1245 could not come at a more relevant time," Austin said. "This case demonstrated the need to make changes in state law to make the punishment fit the crime."

Norris was recently sentenced in Madison Superior Court to 12 years in prison for her role in the death of her son in January 2003.

"In the case, the defendant was found guilty of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury," Austin said. "Present state law makes no distinction between that crime and neglect of a dependent that results in death."

House Bill 1245 would correct that situation by making neglect of a dependent that results in death a Class A Felony, which will carry jail time of anywhere from 20 to 50 years.

"Child neglect is a horrifying crime that has thankfully gained more attention from the public and the media in recent years," Austin said. "Through the passage of initiatives like House Bill 1245, lawmakers in state government have the chance to speak out on behalf of those people who are terrified to speak for themselves.

"As a result, we are seeing the Indiana General Assembly take a strong stand to tell those who abuse and neglect children that they will pay a heavy price for their crimes," she continued.