House Bill 4004: Defines Risk of Injury as Abuse

West Virginia
West Virginia

Last Updated: March 25, 2014
House Bill 4004: Defines Risk of Injury as Abuse
Delegate L. Phillips, Delegate Rowan, Delegate Fleischauer, Delegate Border, Delegate Lawrence, Delegate Guthrie, Delegate P. Smith, Delegate Marshall and Delegate Poore

House Bill ("HB") 4004 would make it a criminal offense for a parent to abuse a child in a way that creates "substantial risk of bodily injury." Another bill, HB 4005, has also been introduced to similarly change the definition of "neglect."

HSLDA's Position:
Action Requested:
None at this time

The bill has been somewhat improved by amendments. No further action is needed.

1/8/2014 (House) Introduced and Referred to Judiciary and Finance Committees
1/20/2014 (House) Passed Judiciary Committees with amendment
2/21/2014 (House) Passed Finance Committee with substitute
2/24/2014 (House) First Reading
2/25/2014 (House) Second Reading
2/26/2014 (House) Third Reading
2/26/2014 (House) Passed House
2/27/2014 (Senate) Introduced and Referred to Judiciary Committee
3/8/2014 (Senate) Was Not Reported Out of Committee

House Bill (“HB”) 4004 and HB 4005, are similar to bills introduced last year that did not pass. These bills would amend the West Virginia Criminal Code sections 61-8D-3 and 61-8D-4 creating a graduated series of new misdemeanor crimes if parents create certain risks to their children.

While HSLDA respects the appropriate role of government in protecting innocent children from harm, these bills could infringe on the rights of parents who make appropriate and reasonable decisions for their children. By criminalizing behavior based on risk, these proposals could allow government authorities to prosecute parents criminally if they disagree with otherwise legitimate parental decisions.

For example, the definition of “bodily injury” is “substantial physical pain, illness or any impairment of physical condition.” If a child is permitted to climb a tree does a parent create a “risk” of a child falling and experiencing “substantial physical pain”? If a parent fails to get a doctor recommended, but not legally required vaccination (like a flu shot), has that parent now created a “risk” of “illness”? If a parent prefers natural healing or alternate medical therapies do they create a “risk” of an “illness” because they delay in bringing their child to a “regular doctor”? If a parent uses reasonable physical discipline (“spanking”) do they create a “risk” of “pain”?

West Virginia already has abuse and neglect laws under chapter 49 that permits the state to investigate if children are suspected of being neglected or abused. Chapter 49 permits the state to file a petition to take custody of children if there is probable cause to believe that parents are abusing or neglecting their children. Current criminal law also already makes it a felony if a neglectful parent causes bodily injury or through “gross neglect” creates a “substantial risk” of “serious bodily injury.”

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Bill History