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House Panel Approves ‘Becca Bill’

The “Becca Bill” to give parents and local authorities a stronger hand in dealing with runaway children has cleared a key hurdle in the state House.

Before unanimously approving a new version of HB1417 on Monday, the House Appropriations Committee panel stripped out a provision allowing authorities to lock up chronic runaways - those who leave home at least three times in a year - for six months in a secure facility.

The legislation now heads to the full House, where approval is predicted.

The measure, dubbed the “Becca Bill” after a murdered runaway, would require “crisis residential centers” to be operated more securely. Currently, parents say it’s far too easy for a child to walk away from a detention center, rather than be forced to stay long enough to be evaluated and get the help they need.

The bill also would make it easier to have runaways detained and would make it a crime to harbor such a youth. Parents would be authorized to commit their child to substance abuse or mental health treatment.

The measure also would allow the state to suspend the driver’s license of chronic runaways.

Dennis Hedman, who 13-year-old daughter, Rebecca, was murdered in Spokane after she ran away from home, told a rally two weeks ago that children shouldn’t have free rein to make “life and death” decisions. Parents and authorities need more tools for dealing with children, he and other parents told lawmakers.

After the six-month detention was dropped, Democrats went along with the bill. The measure passed 29-0 with no debate.