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April 25, 2013

Dorman legislation could have helped runaway in rape case

CHICKASHA — A bill that never made it to the Oklahoma House floor could have prevented a young girl who ran away from home from being allegedly raped, the bill’s co-sponsor said.

Rep. Joe Dorma, D-Rush Springs, authored Bill 2227 alongside Senate Majority Leader Mike Schulz to establish an alert system specifically for runaways in Oklahoma. Schulz blocked the bill from going to a committee and it subsequently never made it to the House floor.

Just last week, a Tuttle man was arrested on charges of first degree rape stemming from an incident that occurred when he brought a 15-year-old girl to his residence after the two met over the internet. The girl ran away from home to meet the man identified by Grady County Sheriffs as 26-year-old Tanner Hart.

“I’m certain that no officer in the area knew that a child had run away from home,” Dorman said. “If word had been out, hopefully people would have been looking and that child would have been found.”

The bill – named after JaRay Wilson, a young woman from Schulz’s District 38 who has been missing for six months and has past runaway instances – would have set up an alert system to inform law enforcement officers that sign up to the program voluntarily that a runaway has been reported in a specific geographical area. Information on the juvenile, including appearance and a photo, would be sent to officers via text message or email. The bill also would have set up exit interviews to determine if there was a specific reason a juvenile decided to flee their home.

“Easily, 95 percent of cases occur because the juvenile gets mad and just leaves,” Dorman said. “But, there are other causes, such as a abuse or neglect. The exit interviews would determine the reason for running away.”

The bill would also grant law enforcement the authority to detain a found runaway until a parent or legal guardian could come pick them up. Currently, police officers do not have this ability, Dorman said.

The reason Schulz blocked the bill from committee had to do with the amount of alerts resulting from runaway reports across the state.

“For some reason, the senator requested that the bill not go to a Senate committee hearing,” Dorman said. “I heard that the reason is he is concerned about a large amount of alerts being sent out to police officers and how that might lessen the feeling of threat. We have tens of thousands of runaways in the state each year. I understand the concern that so many alerts might lead to a saturation of information, but to burry our heads in the sand is not a plausible alternative.”

Dorman made a few amendments to the bill, but it was defeated. He said he will go back to make more changes and introduce a similar bill again in the future.

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