Should Leaving a Child in a Car Be a Felony?Carolyn Castiglia
We talked last week about whether or not automakers should install forgotten kid alarms in cars as a result of the high number of overheating deaths already this year. While many parents see no harm in adding the safety technology to vehicles, Pennsylvania lawmakers want to go one step further. They plan to introduce a bill that would charge parents who leave their children in unattended vehicles with a third-degree felony.
Sen. Robert Tomlinson, R-Bucks County, and Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bensalem, are sponsoring the legislation and will present it to their respective chambers, according to the Daily American. Supervising adults caught abandoning children in a car currently face misdemeanor charges; a third-degree felony conviction can result in 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
But wait! Here’s the really unbelievable part: This proposed change in the law comes in response to a slew of hasty parents who’ve left their children locked in the parking lot of the Parx Casino in Bensalem in order to go gamble. You know, with something other than their children’s lives. “Between June 15 and Aug. 25, six parents left a combined 12 children and a puppy unattended in cars in Parx’s sprawling parking lots,” according to the Philadelphia Daily News. “The children ranged from 15 months to 15 years old, and were left unsupervised from a half-hour to six hours.” (The age of the puppy is unknown, but officals say he responds to the name Chip.*)
Law enforcement officials will be able to use discretion in handing out tickets for the offense, presumably to avoid locking up innocent parents who are just dropping library books in the outdoor depository while their kid waits in the car for 30 seconds. (Now you know what I did this afternoon!) But Cleaver’s underlying hope is that this legislation will allow police to identify families afflicted by alcohol abuse or other addictions and lead them to recovery programs.
State Rep. Carl Walker, R-Allegheny Township, has a more cynical outlook about the plan, however. He says, “You can’t legislate common sense for people who are going to a casino and letting their kids sit in a car.” That’s true. I’m not sure letting kids sit in a car should be a felony, but there seems to be a real need to make families in Bensalem understand that parenting is more important than gambling. The Philadelphia Daily News reports that “the state Gaming Control Board last month told the casino to fix the problem” and “Parx officials said that they have permanently banned the offending parents and increased parking lot patrols.”
Gambling is addictive, and commercial gambling is outlawed in many states. Cleaver is right to assume that drinking and gambling go hand in hand, which is why if he really wants to get troubled people the help they need, he should get out of the parking lot and walk into the casino. How about this? Draft a piece of legislation that says no one under the age of 18 is allowed on casino property, period. That would go a long way toward fixing the abandoned kids problem. I’d bet on that.
*I’m just guessing that the dog responds to Chip. Other appropriate names could be Slots, Banker, Dealer and Snooki.