Where is the line between child abuse and independence? Nebraska considers changes

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Lawmakers heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would protect parents from certain child abuse charges.

LB 42 was introduced by Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair.

Right now in Nebraska, if parents allow their children to walk to school alone or play outside without supervision, they could be charged with child abuse or neglect.

The bill would prevent parents from being charged, if a reasonable person would agree that the child is mature enough for the activity.

“These additions allow for children to be unsupervised for a short amount of time so long as reasonable precautionary measures have been taken,” said Lincoln Arneal, who testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. “Whether that is leaving them in the car for a short time or inside playing with toys while running out to get the mail or a food delivery.”

SEE ALSO: Nebraska proposal would require fewer people to report suspected child abuse

Most people who opposed the bill said it’s not specific enough.

“What is sufficient maturity?” asked Dara Delehant of the Nebraska County Attorneys Association. “To one person, that could be 8 years old. To another person, it could be 16.”

Those in opposition also took issue with the phrases “sufficiently obvious” and “reasonable person.”

But Hansen said this type of wording is more direct than it may seem.

“Reasonable person” is often used as a measurable factor in court cases.

“I think there’s a lot of terminology in this bill and many other bills that aren’t specifically defined but are more likely interpreted by the court, such as maturity,” Hansen said. “Each court might determine that differently, like you mentioned. A lot of other terms are, I believe, interpreted by the court at their own discretion.”

The committee did not vote on the bill.

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