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Gov. Sonny Perdue's child endangerment bill breezed through the state House of Representatives on Friday, clearing the way for him to sign it into law. Gov. Sonny Perdue says the child endangerment bill, which he plans to sign soon, "puts people on notice that children are a precious resource that must be protected."The House voted 161-1 in favor of the legislation. The one vote against the measure was cast by Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta).The law would allow prosecutors to hold parents and caregivers criminally accountable for reckless and negligent behavior that endangers a child. It also would create a separate felony for making the illegal drug methamphetamine in the presence of a child.Perdue said the methamphetamine provision was critical. He cited the deaths of three young children Thursday in a fire that police suspect was started at an illegal methamphetamine lab in Griffin.The legislation resulted from a rare collaboration between Perdue, a Republican, and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, a Democrat. It adds criminal negligence, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, to the state's child cruelty statute. Parents caught making methamphetamine in the presence of children could be sent to prison for two to 15 years. A sentence of up to 20 years could be imposed in cases where a child suffers serious injury.Perdue said the bill, which he plans to sign soon, "puts people on notice that children are a precious resource that must be protected."Taylor had pushed for a child endangerment law for four years, struggling to convince lawmakers that it would not become a tool for overzealous prosecutors."This legislation does not punish accidents," the lieutenant governor said. The law was created to punish instances of reckless negligence, such as locking a child in a hot car in summer, he said. "Parents must always be responsible for the safety of their kids. That is the very definition of a parent."The legislation is the first sponsored by the governor to pass both houses of the General Assembly. Once Perdue signs it, the law will go into effect July 1.The sole dissenter, Franklin, said he worries that prosecutors might use such a law to target parents for having a gun that is not locked up.Georgia has been the only state without a law protecting children from neglect and recklessness by caregivers or parents who put them in harm's way.Politics threatened the bill this session as legislators squabbled over who would get credit.Child welfare advocate Wendi Clifton, who has fought for the bill for years, predicted that within weeks of its being enacted, prosecutions will emerge that could not have occurred in the past.The measure will send a strong message to caregivers, she said: "You better have a little common sense in parenting."Methamphetamine is Georgia's fastest-spreading illegal drug problem, and it's taking a mounting toll on children whose parents make it. Their lives are threatened by toxic fumes, explosive chemicals and fires at the home-based drug labs.In November and December, the Journal-Constitution published a series of reports on the dangers of the drug to Georgia children. From 1999 through 2003, the number of Georgia meth labs raided by police jumped from 29 to 439, according to GBI figures based on federal fiscal years.In 2003, police reported 73 children living at or exposed to homes used as meth labs in Georgia, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration."Any sign of weakness or retreat," Bush said, would only invite further violence.He vowed to prevent insurgents from derailing U.S.-led efforts to install a democratic government in Iraq. Attacks in Iraq have killed at least 16 civilians in recent days."We will never turn over Iraq to terrorists who intend our own destruction," Bush said in a White House speech to diplomats representing 84 countries. "Whatever it takes, we will fight and work to assure the success of freedom in Iraq."Bush made only fleeting reference to the alleged Iraqi chemical and biological weapons upon which he built his case for war. No stockpiles of such weapons have been found.Acknowledging the bitter divisions the war provoked between the United States and close allies like France and Germany, both of which opposed the invasion, Bush sought to bury the diplomatic hatchet. He referred to the two NATO members as "old and valued friends," and said, "Those differences belong to the past."Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry marked the anniversary by criticizing Bush for parting ways with close allies over Iraq, for underestimating the war's costs and for his use of pre-war weapons allegations to make the case for war.
"Simply put, this president didn't tell the truth about the war," Kerry, who was vacationing in Idaho, said in a prepared statement. "Our country is paying the price."Kerry has stopped short of calling the war a mistake, and he has not called for bringing U.S. forces home from Iraq."Saddam was a threat to the United States," said Kerry adviser Sandy Berger, who served as national security adviser to President Bill Clinton. "Regime change was the right policy, but regime change is not the same thing as a unilateral invasion on a hurried timetable."A rash of attacks in Iraq killed at least nine civilians Thursday, a day after seven were killed when a powerful bomb exploded in Baghdad.Bush, who refers to Iraq as the central front in a global anti-terror campaign, said the attacks call for "deeper resolve, and bolder action" against terrorist networks and their supporters.But law enforcement officials say the number of Georgia children affected by meth labs probably is higher, because some police departments don't report their data. Phil Price, the GBI agent who oversees drug enforcement in North Georgia, estimates that children live at or spend time at more than half the homes raided for meth labs in his region.
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