OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A bill approved by the Oklahoma Senate on Thursday makes it a felony for anyone to falsely report an abduction of a child that leads to an Amber Alert being issued by authorities.
The measure now goes to the House for final consideration.
``This is a serious crime and that's why we wanted to classify it as a felony,'' said Sen. Cliff Aldridge, R-Midwest City. ``The Amber Alert system is too important to allow it to be compromised by false reports.''
A system of notifying the public when a child has been abducted was started in 1999 in Oklahoma with the cooperation of the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters. It was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl who was killed in Texas in 1996.
Over the years, 13 Amber Alerts have been issued and four of them were based on false reports of abductions, Aldridge said.
``That's almost 25 percent,'' Aldridge said. ``Just like the boy who cried wolf, too many of these false reports could cause citizens not to take these reports seriously.''
Gene Thaxton of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, chairman of the Amber Alert Committee, said the alerts are supposed to be issued in instances where authorities believe children are in danger or have been abducted by a stranger.
Thaxton said there have been several instances where Amber alerts were not issued because authorities determined it was ``a domestic situation'' and a child was not threatened.
In a 2006 Midwest City case, however, an Amber Alert went out after a foster parent reported three children were abducted at gunpoint by the biological parents.
The mother of the children called police to report that there was no abduction. The children were taken into state custody.
Authorities believe the foster parent filed a false report because she did not want to get into trouble with the Department of Human Services.
During debate, Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, questioned the wisdom of raising the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony. She said the Midwest City foster parent ``did something stupid'' but it did not rise to the level of a felony offense.
Although filing a false report is a felony under Aldridge's bill, the penalty carries a maximum penalty of one year in the county jail, less than most felonies.
Still, Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, said the bill was among a series of proposed laws that could exacerbate the problem of jail overcrowding.