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Article of Interest - Legislation

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Bridges4Kids LogoN.C. Legislature gives final approval to 'Kaitlyn's Law'
by Gary D. Robertson, The Charlotte Observer, July 18, 2003
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RALEIGH, N.C. - Legislation that would bar day care employees from giving medicine to children without a parent's written permission won the Legislature's final approval Friday.

The bill, which now awaits Gov. Mike Easley's signature, would make it a felony if the employee gives medicine without permission if the action seriously injures the child. In cases where a child is unharmed, it would be a misdemeanor.

The legislation that had been approved Thursday by the House was passed Friday by the Senate, even though the Senate's earlier version had made both actions felonies. The House also expanded criminal penalties to employees who work in preschool day care in public schools.

The father of the infant whose death prompted the bill also wanted the Senate's tougher penalties, but agreed the House version was better than nothing.

"We're pleased with the outcome considering that had we continued to push, we could have lost the bill completely," said Richard Shevlin, whose 5-month-old daughter, Kaitlyn, died two years ago Friday while in the care of an Alamance County day care operator.

The bill's Senate sponsor said trying to reach a compromise with the House would have been difficult since an amendment to eliminate the public school day care from the bill was soundly defeated by the House.

"We felt that to take the public schools out of it would kill the bill in the House," said Sen. Bill Purcell, D-Scotland.

The measure, called "Kaitlyn's Law," means a person convicted of seriously injuring a child in such circumstances probably would receive up to five years in prison.

The legislation would apply to illegal childcare providers along with the 9,200 childcare facilities the state regulates. There are about 1,000 day care facilities in public schools.

An autopsy determined Kaitlyn Shevlin died from sudden infant death syndrome, but more tests showed she received "therapeutic amounts" of a generic form of Benadryl. Prosecutors believe the day care provider used it to quiet infants in her care.

"You do not come across (many) people who deliberately medicate a child," said Peggy Ball, director of the state Division of Child Development, which regulates day cares.

Josephine Burke, who ran the illegal day care, served four months in prison on misdemeanor assault and child neglect charges.

Anand Ramaswamy, the Alamance County assistant district attorney who helped prosecute the case, said the bill still codifies the penalties that a person already can receive for misusing medicine on a child. He said having a standalone statute will educate the public and make it easier to prosecute violators.

"People may have known it was wrong. Now they know it's a crime," Ramaswamy said Friday.

In the bill, day care employees can give medication to a child in a medical emergency without parental consent if the parent is unavailable and after getting instructions from a health-care provider.

Purcell said the legislation will send a message to day care operators that they must give out prescription and over-the-counter medicine properly.

If a worker drugs children only to sedate them, he said, "you're going to be in serious trouble."

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