- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Good Samaritans who break into vehicles in an attempt to rescue children trapped inside would be protected from civil liability under legislation pending before Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Elijah Haahr, a Springfield Republican, said the goal is to encourage people to act quickly if they believe it’s necessary to save kids from dangers such as deadly excessive heat.

The policy goal is to let people know that if “you walk by a car, don’t just call an emergency person out and hope they get there in time,” Haahr said. “You need to at some point take matters into your own hands if that child seems to be in imminent distress.”

At least 25 children under age 14 died of heat stroke in vehicles last year, according to the national advocacy group KidsAndCars.org. President and founder Janette Fennell said the data is compiled from news reports, law enforcement and other sources. It cites 140 other non-traffic child deaths in 2015 from accidents ranging from seat-belt strangulation to power windows.

Haahr said he wanted to change Missouri policy after learning about a Merriam, Kansas, shoe store employee who last summer broke into a parked vehicle to rescue a child crying and dripping in sweat.

Those who call police or other emergency personnel first and then break into locked cars to free kids couldn’t be held civilly liable under the legislation. The rescuers would need to wait with children near the vehicles until emergency responders arrive.

The bill needs Nixon’s signature to take effect. Haahr said he wants the measure in place as soon as possible before the end of summer.

Missouri would be the eighth state to enact a good-Samaritan law aimed at helping people locked in cars, Fennell said. She said temperatures in closed cars are higher than the outside temperature and children’s bodies heat more quickly than adults’ bodies, a combination that can lead to heat stroke and death.

The bill received bipartisan support among lawmakers.

Kansas City Democrat Rep. Brandon Ellington was one of only two House members who voted against it. It passed the Senate unanimously.

The legislation is not needed, Ellington said, because it’s unlikely good Samaritans would face legal penalties for attempting to help children. Instead, Ellington said lawmakers should ramp up penalties for adults who leave kids unattended in cars.

“There’s no reason to change the law to have blanket immunity,” Ellington said.

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Good Samaritan bill is HB 1649.

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Online:

Missouri House: https://house.mo.gov


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