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Early, lawmakers push runaway bill; Harboring minors could lead to charges.

Byline: Milton J. Valencia

WORCESTER - During his first month in office, District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. has teamed with local legislators to propose a bill that encourages criminal charges for people who harbor runaway children.

The bill stems from meetings the new district attorney has had with Juvenile Court officials, who noted loopholes in state laws that allow individuals to prey on children. In some cases, police have found runaways living with adults in shady motels, where the children may be persuaded to commit illegal acts. But authorities had little power to bring any criminal charges, according to Timothy J. Connolly, spokesman for the district attorney's office.

The proposed bill would be an amendment to an existing crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

"Unfortunately, in the real world, kids do run away and they are vulnerable to the advances of people who may seem to be their friends but who really intend to do them great harm," Mr. Early said in a statement. "This bill allows us to get tough with those who would take advantage of these kids."

Massachusetts has no law against harboring runaway children, according to the district attorney. The proposed bill calls for a one-year jail sentence and up to a $500 fine for anyone who knowingly and willfully conceals or harbors a juvenile who has run away from home.

Mr. Early teamed with state Rep. Jennifer L. Flanagan, D-Leominster, and state Sen. Edward M. Augustus Jr., D-Worcester, in sponsoring the bill.

"Police officers are often frustrated when they find a runaway child living with a strange adult," Ms. Flanagan said in a statement. "There is really no way for the officers to compel a confused child to leave this dangerous situation. With this change in the law, officers will have another tool to protect children."

Mr. Augustus added: "Kids who are on the run and scared can be vulnerable to sexual predators and con artists whose only interest is to use these kids for their own gain. With this change in the law, police departments across the commonwealth will have another option in charging these individuals."
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 27, 2007
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