JEFFERSON CITY _ The death of a five-year-old Kansas City child is being cited as the motivation behind a bill working its way through the legislature that would give courts more power to protect children.
The child was Angel Hart, murdered in 1993, prosecutors say, by her mother's boyfriend.
Angel was murdered after a court decided that Angel and a younger brother could remain in the care of her mother and the boyfriend despite evidence of longtime abuse.
She was the first child ever murdered under a state program designed to preserve families in child-abuse cases.
Before the murder, Angel's family situation had come before a local court after Angel alleged that her mother's boyfriend had tied her up, hung her upside down form a closet rod, and dunked her head underwater.
However, the state's child-abuse investigator could not find supporting evidence. And the Family Services Division recommended the child remain in the home _ a recommendation accepted by the judge.
Two months later Angel was murdered in a motel room. Her body has not been found.
Prosecutors allege Angel was beaten and drowned to death by her mother's boyfriend because she would not recite the alphabet.
``If there had been somebody looking for Angel Hart, that would have never happened,'' said Sen. Joe Moseley, D-Columbia, who is sponsor of a bill designed to give courts more power to protect children like Angel.
The measure would allow a court to appoint a guardian ad litem _ a special advocate _ when a case involves an allegation of potential harm for the child.
``The policy of the state,'' specifies the text, ``is that which is in the best interest of the child''.
The law would help shift the primary emphasis at the Missouri Family Services Division away from preserving families and closer to protecting the safety of children.
``Every time safety is questioned, we should look after the security of the children, and be sure there is somebody representing their interests''.
Another goal of the bill is to extend court orders after divorce, _ cases in which these orders enjoin the respondent from abusing, molesting, stalking, or disturbing the peace of the petitioner, and from entering the petitioner's house.
~~Supporting the bill is Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
``This bill will make orders of protection consistent with chastity and dissolution law,'' said Colleen Coble, MCADV's executive director.
Moseley said the bill doesn't have any opposition, so it is expected to pass both chambers.