JACKSON, MS (WLOX) - A new law in Mississippi is aimed at making those who abuse children accountable for their actions.
Monday, Governor Phil Bryant signed into law HB 1259, also known as the Lonnie Smith Act. It's named in honor of a Jackson County boy who suffered unthinkable abuse from his own mother.
Supporters said the new law bridges the gap between the legal and medical definitions of child abuse, and takes a stair-step approach to penalizing those found guilty.
This bill has been championed by the Mississippi Prosecutors Association and, in particular, by the prosecutors in Jackson County who worked on the case involving Lonnie Smith. Lonnie's biological mother, Sylvia Smith, was indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury for felony child abuse, and pled guilty to the charge.
In 2008, Smith dipped then three-year-old Lonnie, several times into a bath tub of scalding hot water. Lonnie was severely burned, spent nearly a year in the intensive care unit, has undergone numerous surgeries, is confined to a wheelchair and has permanent injuries that will leave him disabled for the rest of his life.
In 2012, Smith was sentenced to 18 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections followed by five years of Post Release Supervision.
"I appreciate the work of so many that helped make this legislation happen," Gov. Bryant said. "House Bill 1259 gives law enforcement in Mississippi the tools they will need to better protect our children and sends a clear message that those who harm children will be held accountable."
District Attorney Tony Lawrence worked with the members of the Legislature for more than two years to get this bill passed.
"The Lonnie Smith Act gives prosecutors across the state a new weapon to protect children from continuous abuse and to hold those accountable for that abuse. I have seen too many tragedies unfold due to the inadequacies of the old child abuse law. I am proud that the Legislature and the Governor saw the need to reform the law to better protect our children," said Lawrence.
Senator Brice Wiggins said it took a lot of work to get the language of the bill just right.
"We met with physicians, prosecutors, and parents around the state to ensure the bill does that for which it was intended – protect our children," Wiggins said.
The bill was authored by Representative Jason White of District 48 and Representative Carolyn Crawford of District 112. A similar version of the bill was authored by former Jackson County Assistant District Attorney and current District 52 Senator Brice Wiggins. The new law will take effect on July 1, 2013.