Wyatt’s Law: An Update on Michigan’s Possible “Child Abuser Registry”

Would the new registry stop child abuse? Or simply invade people's lives?
Would the new registry stop child abuse? Or simply invade people’s lives?

 

Erica Hammel is the mother behind Wyatt’s Law. Her story is a heartbreaking one, and it is easy to see why she has worked so hard to advocate for a law that would save others from the struggle and tragedy that she and her son have endured. However, there are many factors that need considering when a bill is considered for law. In this case, one of the main issues is the money. Not sure what we mean, let’s take a look…

 

Hammel was convinced that her son was being abused by her ex’s new girlfriend, Rachel Edwards, but had no way to prove it. If she had a searchable database available to her where she could have discovered the woman’s multiple prior child abuse convictions, she could have proven her suspicions were true to the court. It would have saved her son a lifetime of struggle, and herself endless heartbreak.

 

However, because she couldn’t prove it, the court refused to deny Edwards access to Wyatt, and as a result, he ended up being shaken hard enough to cause permanent brain injuries. This has left him facing innumerable brain surgeries and years of extensive therapy. Which is why his mother has battled to create a registry, very similar in nature to Michigan’s Sex Offender Registry, that would allow access to a list of people convicted of child abuse and neglect in Michigan.

 

Registries, however, do not grow on trees. If the state wants to build, maintain, and update a registry of that magnitude, they have to be willing to pay for it. The price is no small figure either. In total, the expected annual total would cost the state about $2.5 billion, which is what the Senate Fiscal Agency has projected when considering everything involved in this endeavor.

 

It is worth noting that some of the cost would be defrayed by the registration fees that convicted abusers would be required to pay. However that amount would be a drop in the bucket compared to what the state would need to either build or purchase the information technology to operate the registry and staff it with qualified personnel. So is it worth it? That depends on who you ask…

 

Ask parents like Hammel and others whose children have been the victims of abusers, and they will tell you yes – no price is too high when you are counting the casualties in the lives of children. But these parents, while their concern is genuine, are not the ones paying the bill. So what does the Michigan Senate have to say about that figure?

 

At the Senate committee hearing where several parents testified before the Senate in the hopes of pushing the bills through, several senators remained skeptical. One senator suggested maintaining the criminal registries that Michigan already has, and making that information more readily available to parents in an effort to save the state money.

 

This is not a new concept, as State Police officials told the committee. They are already working with the courts to make Michigan’s criminal background database, iCHAT, more easily available to parents who are involved in custody cases.

 

The Senate Committee didn’t vote on the issue that day, and there is no information on whether they intend to reconvene to address the issue again in the future. Either way, we will stay on top of this issue, as it will impact the lives of many of our valued clients, and we will keep you updated as new information is made available.