GREAT FALLS — Gov. Steve Bullock held a signing ceremony in Great Falls Tuesday for two bills aimed at preventing child abuse, selecting a city where five children have died at the hands of their abusers in the past five years.
One bill creates the crime of criminal child endangerment if a person causes substantial risk of death or serious injury to a child under 14 years of age. It would punish those who drive drunk with a child in the car, fail to get medical care for an apparent life-threatening condition, place a child in the care of a known abuser, deal dangerous drugs with children in the home, or fail to provide proper nutrition. Someone found guilty could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and fined up to $50,000.
"In Montana, if you hurt a child, you will be punished," said Sen. Mitch Tropila, D-Great Falls.
Cascade County Attorney John Parker drafted the child endangerment bill.
"Here's the bottom line: Montana's children have more protection under the law than they did before," Parker said. "I will tell you we are going to use these laws to make sure kids are safe in this community and all across the state of Montana."
Great Falls Police Detective Noah Scott also praised the new law.
"Hopefully on even one case we can proactively stop a child from getting into a situation like an October Perez," Scott said. "If we can get one it will be a resounding success. It will lead us to have more tools in the toolbox, so to speak, to help children in difficult situations."
Two-year-old October died of head injuries in June 2012. Her mother's boyfriend, David Wayne Hyslop, was convicted of deliberate homicide and sentenced to life in prison.
Bullock also signed a bill establishing an office of child and family ombudsman in the Department of Justice.
Bullock officially signed by bills in late April. The laws took effect immediately.