A Lewiston lawmaker has proposed a bill that would make it a crime for any adult to leave a child under the age of ten alone in a motor vehicle.
LD 110 — “An Act to Prohibit Leaving a Child Under 10 Years of Age Alone in a Motor Vehicle” — was introduced by Rep. Margaret Craven (D-Lewiston).
While the bill may seem self-explanatory based on the title, it is yet another example of ambiguous lawmaking that could lead to confusion for those tasked with enforcing it.
According to the text of the proposed law, an adult would be prohibited from leaving a child younger than ten in a car “under conditions that present a substantial health or safety risk to the minor.”
Nowhere in the proposal does Craven articulate precisely what conditions may present a substantial threat to the child.
While it’s obvious that scorching heat or freezing cold would fall into this category, the bill might also criminalize a parent who exits their vehicle to change a flat tire on the side of the freeway, or who enters a gas station to pay the clerk in a dangerous city.
The new crime Craven wants to put on the books would be considered a traffic violation, with fines that start at $50 for the first offense and get progressively higher for later offenses. For a 3rd offense, the state would fine the neglectful adult $250.
Craven’s proposal comes as Maine’s Child Welfare Ombudsman has revealed that the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS) has struggled mightily to perform the basic functions of a child welfare agency.
While Craven has proposed a bill to address the supposed problem of neglectful parents leaving children alone in cars under dangerous circumstances, she has not proposed any legislation to help OCFS protect children who are actually in dangerous situations.
The proposal might also be entirely redundant, as previous instances in which a child was left unattended in a motor vehicle have been handled by law enforcement using reckless endangerment statutes.