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Bill Would Make It A Crime To Fail To Report Emergency

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Inaction by a group of Florida teenagers who videotaped a man's drowning rather than calling for help has prompted legislation in the Arizona Senate that would make it a crime not to report a life-threatening emergency.

Republican Sen. John Kavanagh's proposal would make failing to report such an incident a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. He called it a statement of the state's ethics and morality but acknowledged it would be exceedingly difficult to enforce.

Arizona law requires parents, doctors and emergency officials to act in emergencies, but not average citizens.

"All this bill says is when people don't have a duty to act and they can easily and safely notify the authorities that somebody is dying, they have to do it," Kavanagh told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. "It's unfortunate that we have to legislate basic ethics and morality, but apparently we do."

The committee advanced the measure on a 4-3 vote with only majority Republicans backing it.

But GOP Sen. Bob Worsley said he doesn't think the incident shows a breakdown of social morality that deserves a new law and he'll likely vote no in the full Senate.

"I'm not of the opinion that the behavior of these ... boys that was cited is a social cancer that has reached a level that we should be legislating moral behavior because we've lost it in our society," Worsley said.

The three Democrats on the panel opposed the measure, calling it an ill-defined, overly broad measure and citing Kavanagh's own admission that it would be difficult to enforce.

"How do you define life-threatening emergency? Kids playing outside in the heat?" Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada asked. "The language of your bill doesn't say.

"I think what we have here in front of us if a bill that's far from being a reasonable in its construction," he added.

Democrats and a lobbyist for the state's defense attorney association also said it runs counter to emerging criminal justice reform efforts and efforts to enact a Good Samaritan law to cut the number of fatal opioid overdoses.

Jamel Dunn drowned in a retention pond in the city of Cocoa, Florida, on July 9, and police later discovered a recording made by the five teens of the 31-year-old's death. Cocoa Police Chief Mike Cataloupe called their actions "utterly inhumane and cruel," but noted that there was no state law requiring people to report someone in distress.

Police later sought charges for failing to report a death, but prosecutors have not yet decided whether to pursue them, State Attorney Phil Archer's office said Thursday.

The Arizona Senate proposal now moves to the full chamber for consideration after a routine constitutional review.