The Judiciary Committee rejected a bill Thursday that would have allowed victims of malicious vandalism by minors to collect up to $6,000 in damages from the child’s parents.
Under current Maine law, the parents or legal guardians of a minor between the ages of 7 and 18 may only face civil liability up to $800, a limit that was established in 1995.
Rep. Shelley Rudnicki (R-Fairfield) proposed increasing the limit in response to repeated complaints from residents in her district about a gang of roaming youths committing numerous acts of vandalism.
Democrats on the committee weren’t persuaded that parents ought to pay up when their child destroys their neighbors property.
While Republicans on the committee voted to pass the bill as it was written, Democratic lawmakers unanimously voted to turn the bill into a study — which typically means the bill will never become law.
The Maine ACLU opposed the bill, claiming that it would disproportionately impact low-income families.
Rudnicki said Fairfield residents have been experiencing a sustained wave of vandalism committed by minors, and her constituents are often left with no recourse after the rogue youths inflict thousands of dollars worth of damage.
Information shared provided by Fairfield Chief of Police Thomas Gould confirms that the town is experiencing a child crime wave.
In 2019, Fairfield PD responded to 82 calls related to children committing crimes. In 2020, that number rose to 110, and in 2021 it rose to 127.
From March to October of last year, Fairfield police responded to 172 calls involving minor crimes.
Those crimes included 29 destruction of property cases, including vandalism of a parked car and other property.
“80% of the incidents involve the same 12 kids,” Gould said in a text message to Rudnicki, which she shared during the hearing.
Progressives on the committee recoiled from the high dollar amount and suggested that parents can’t really be expected to know where their 17-year-old children are and what they’re doing.
“When you’re talking about a 7-year-old, parents often have substantial control of their whereabouts and their behaviors,” said Rep. Amy Kuhn (D-Falmouth).
“By the time someone is 17, parents substantially less control over their whereabouts and their behavior,” she said.
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Rep. Jennifer Poirier (R-Skowhegan) acknowledged the high dollar amount but asked her colleagues to consider the high cost of damage done to victims.
“In our communities, in our state, nationwide, we’re lacking accountability right now,” said Poirier.
“You can look at a dollar amount as being an exorbitant amount, but also look at the cost of things,” she said. “You break a window, I assure you you’re not getting it fixed for $100.”
“As a parent, it is our responsibility to know where our children are at, to know that they’re being good citizens,” she said. “Part of that responsibility is being held accountable for a child’s actions.”