State Senate candidate Dave Renzi today joined with Syracuse-area State Senator John A. DeFrancisco to unveil “Erin’s Law” — a comprehensive plan to prevent and punish violent crimes against children, following the murder of 11-year-old Erin Maxwell of Palermo, Oswego County.
The plan by Renzi, a former criminal prosecutor, includes tougher penalties for any violent crime involving a child, as well as common sense reforms to keep abused children from falling through the safety net. Senator DeFrancisco said he would work to get the plan passed into law before the end of the current legislative session.
“The needless and tragic death of Erin Maxwell sent shockwaves throughout Central and Northern New York and led to demands from parents and concerned citizens to know how it could have happened, and what can be done to make sure it never happens again,” said Renzi.
“As a father, as a former prosecutor, as a concerned New Yorker, I believe that protecting innocent children from abuse and violence must be a top priority of government. We must get justice for Erin by holding accountable those responsible for her death, and finding ways to protect other children, and prevent future tragedies,” said Renzi.
Senator DeFrancisco said, “I applaud Dave Renzi for taking the initiative to suggest legislation to protect our children. This is the type of person we need in our State Senate.”
“I will do everything I can to get this legislation passed before the end of the current legislative session. However, if it is not passed, I want Dave to be able to pursue this vital piece of legislation. We must protect our children against child neglect and abuse like we recently saw in Palermo,” said Senator DeFrancisco.
The centerpiece of Renzi’s plan is a call for increasing penalties for any crime committed against a child under 12, just as the Legislature recently increased penalties for crimes against the elderly.
Under Renzi’s plan, a person who now faces only a year or less in jail for intentionally causing harm to a child would face up to four years in prison. Causing a serious physical injury to a child would result in a prison term of up to 15 years.
“A person capable of violently abusing a child should be behind bars for as long as possible,” said Renzi. “Knowing with certainty that the penalty will be harsh might give these monsters some pause before they strike, and help keep young children safe.”
In addition to tougher penalties, Renzi called for reforms in the way that child abuse cases are investigated. In Erin’s case, social workers had advance warning of problems in her family home, but did not act to remove the girl before she was harmed. Renzi’s proposed reforms include:
* requiring that all calls to the state abuse hotline be recorded — just like 911 calls — and, in cases where the allegations are substantiated, preserved for use in possible future investigations (14 states currently require recording of hotline calls);
* requiring a new level of scrutiny for cases where repeated complaints are logged to determine of a child is a victim of chronic abuse. In Erin’s case, officials have confirmed at least three prior complaints of abuse or neglect;
* requiring better coordination between police and case workers when repeat or continuing abuse is suspected, and
* restoring the Governor’s 6% budget cut for child abuse case workers, to help reduce backlogs in child abuse investigations.
“Protecting the safety of a child must be the highest priority in any investigation of potential abuse,” Renzi said. “These reforms will help identify cases of abuse before they fall through the cracks and tragedy strikes.”