Child abuse bill named for victim from Lee County

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – The state House voted Thursday to name the first bill it passed during the 2012 session after a Lee Countian who was the victim of sexual abuse.
The House legislation, which passed late Thursday 106-9, was named the Ryan Pettit Child Protection Act.
Pettit, who took his own life at age 23 in November 2010, was the victim of sexual abuse as a child at the hands of his uncle by marriage, Buddy Prince, who was a teacher/coach at Tupelo High School and is currently serving time in Marshall County Correctional Facility.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, offered the amendment, which passed on a voice vote.
Mimi Pettit, a Verona resident, said when she got the message from Holland about the bill being named after her son, “I almost teared up … I am honored.”
She said her son revealed the abuse in the eighth grade while at a Christian camp in Colorado. She said his actions prevented other instances of abuse.
While the bill passed by an overwhelming margin, it was controversial and took more than four hours for the new Republican majority to pass.
Many Democrats said they supported the concept, but the bill was poorly written and had unintended consequences. They said it could require a teacher or other professional who deals with children, and perhaps even a parent, to report to law enforcement if two teenagers were engaged in sexual activity.
They argued that the mandate for various professionals to report instances of child abuse is already in state law.
Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, said the effects of the bill would be to allow the “government to intrude into very personal decisions” and “overrule parental authority.”
House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, the primary author of the bill, said that is not the intent. He said it’s to protect children from sexual abuse.
Gunn said two-thirds of babies born to underage girls are fathered by adult males.
The bill would mandate certain professionals, such as doctors, clergy and medical providers, to report instances of child abuse. It also would require DNA to be checked of underage girls who have an abortion to try to determine the father. It also would allow people who help an underage girl have an abortion without the consent of her parents to be sued.
The bill died in the House in recent years under Democratic leadership. The debate on the House floor was at times contentious, primarily because in some House races last year the fact that Democratic chairmen killed the bill was used as a campaign issue by Republicans.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com