House passes Omaree’s Law

SANTA FE (KRQE) – On Tuesday, Omaree’s Law was passed by the House with a  52-11 vote and will now head to the Senate.

The bill, named after the 9-year-old boy who was allegedly kicked to death by his mom, would allow CYFD to take kids away from their parents at the first sign of suspected abuse.

But critics worry it could go too far, mistakenly taking kids out of good homes.

The proposal would allow the state to immediately take custody of a child showing injuries that could be abuse, like bruises and broken bones, but what about kids with innocent injuries?

Despite three APD investigations into child abuse involving young Omaree Varela and two from CYFD, he remained at home with his mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus — the suspect for the 9-year-old’s death in December.

“I was disciplining him, and I kicked him the wrong way,” Varela-Casaus told KRQE. “It was an accident.”

In the Roundhouse, lawmakers are trying to make it easier for the state to intervene and prevent cases like Omaree’s from happening again.

“This expedites that procedure during those cases we’re really, really concerned the child is at risk,” said Rep. Emily Kane, D-Bernalillo County.

Kane is co-sponsoring Omaree’s Law to allow CYFD to immediately take custody of a child showing signs of possible abuse for up to two days.

CYFD estimates this could mean the state taking five times as many children into custody as they do now.

While all agree with the bill’s intent, some people are worried kids who aren’t abused could get swept up in this.

That is why Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Bernalillo County, said she voted against it in committee.

“I was a little bit worried about the fact that some children might be unduly traumatized and removed from their homes unnecessarily because of childhood injuries that are normal,” Rep. Chasey said.

But the bill’s supporters said someone, like a doctor, teacher or relative, has to suspect the injuries are from abuse.

“I think we all agree it’s better to be overly protective of our children in these situations,” Rep. Kane said.

While Chasey worried the bill could deter parents from taking their kids to the emergency room for fear their child could be taken away, she also said it is difficult for lawmakers to vote no.

“It might be … It might be hard to vote no, and I say that because everyone is so touched and so terribly heartbroken over this tragedy,” Rep. Chasey said.

Like most representatives, Chasey ended up voting for the bill in the full House vote. It passed 52 to 11.

It will now go to the Senate for a vote.

Gov. Susana Martinez would not say if she would sign the bill into law if the Senate passes it the way it stands.

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