By Ed Brock
Nelda Brown is doing something different to mark the seventh anniversary of the death of her 16-year-old daughter.
The McDonough woman is pushing for a law that she says would help prevent others from meeting the same fate.
The law is Gov. Perdue's child endangerment legislation that has been passed by the Georgia Senate and is currently before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. Along with making it a felony to manufacture methamphetamine in front of children, the bill would also redefine the parameters for charging parents, and caregivers, with cruelty to children.
"They want to crack down on them and make them more responsible," Brown said. "It was a caregiver who scalded Melissa."
Melissa was Brown's daughter. She suffered from a form of cerebral palsy and from age 11 had been in the care of the Clayton Center (at the time the Browns lived in Rex.) Then on Feb. 2, 1997, a caregiver at the home where Melissa lived left the disabled teen alone in a tub of scalding water while she attended to another patient.
On Feb. 25 Melissa died from the injuries she suffered from the scalding. No charges were issued in the case.
At the time of the incident the Clayton County District Attorney's office told her they wouldn't press charges because there was no criminal intent, Brown said.
Brown has been writing letters and making phone calls to legislators like Rep. Gail Buckner, D-Jonesboro, pushing for the bill's passage.
"I've know this lady for a very long time, even before the tragedy that happened to her child," Buckner said. "The situation with Melissa would certainly have been done differently if this statute had been in place."
Among other things the law would specifically add criminal negligence as part of the charge of cruelty to children, Buckner said. That could have included Brown's case.
The bill also adds the offense of third degree cruelty to children and includes sexual abuse of a child under 16 in the definition of "serious injury."
Senate Bill No. 467 was passed in a unanimous vote on Feb. 13, and at the time Perdue said that passing the legislation should be "one of the hallmarks of this session."
"The time is now to help protect our children from drug addicts, kidnappers and reckless caregivers," Perdue said. "Let's put our children first and remove the shame of being the only state in the nation without a strong child protection law."
The governor also implored the Judiciary Committee to move the bill to the floor quickly, but Buckner said some people are trying to make the bill a "political football" by attaching abortion legislation to it.
"This is not about abortion. This is about protecting children from negligent caregivers," said Buckner. "I'm disappointed this hasn't been passed before now."
Wanting to protect children through the law is one reason why she became a legislator, Buckner said.
Buckner said the legislature would handle another of Brown's issues, placing regulations on water heater temperature settings in caregivers' homes, as a separate issue.
Today the Browns will spend the day together as a family and remember their loved one for whom the law, if it passes, is already too late.
"We usually go to the cemetery and put out new flowers," Brown said.