Council gives tentative OK to child endangerment law

The County Council last week tentatively approved a bill that adds a section on child endangerment to the county’s petty offenses code.

The bill will be up for final approval when the council meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9. The council did not meet this week because of Election Day.

The proposed new section states a person commits the offense of endangering the welfare of a child less than 17 years old if he or she “knowingly permits, encourages, aids or causes” the child to break county, state or federal laws, or to “engage in any conduct which would be injurious to the child’s morals or health.”

Specifically, the proposed ordinance targets individuals who are intoxicated while driving a vehicle with a child on board and those who unlawfully possess, sell, manufacture or use controlled substances or drug paraphernalia. The maximum penalty for a county petty offenses violation is one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

While Missouri law also prohibits child endangerment, the state doesn’t take every case, according to County Counselor Patricia Redington, who initially requested the legislation. A new child endangerment ordinance would give county officials the teeth to prosecute those cases that don’t reach the state level, she has said.

Council members in March dropped a similar proposal for further research. One concern was that the ordinance would undermine state law by letting off offenders prosecuted at the county level with a lesser sentence.

The initial ordinance made it an offense to leave a loaded or unloaded firearm and ammunition within reach or easy access of a child “unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant safety device so as to render the weapon inoperable by anyone other than the lawfully authorized user.”

That provision drew criticism from a handful of gun-control opponents who contended state law prohibits local governments from regulating gun storage. The firearm provision is not included in the new version of the ordinance.