SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois is one step closer to lowering from 14 to 12 the age at which a child may legally be left at home alone.
The bill, HB 2334, passed the House with a vote of 111-1 on Wednesday.
The bill's sponsor, GOP Rep. Joe Sosnowski of Rockford, said the current law -- the strictest in the nation for more than 25 years -- was a legislative overreaction to a case from 1992, when a St. Charles couple left their 9- and 4-year-old children at home to vacation in Mexico.
Sosnowski said lowering the age to 12 would give parents more flexibility in deciding when their children are mature enough to be left at home alone or unsupervised.
"If you have a mature 12-year-old who has a cellphone, is very responsible and CPR-certified," Sosnowski said, "there are families that are happy to let that child baby-sit or be at home for a period of time without any real concern."
No other state has a legal age higher than 12. Some do not specify an age limit. Others, like Kansas (6) or North Carolina (8), set the age much lower.
While violating the age statute legally warrants prosecution, it's unclear how often this happens.
Matt Jones, associate director of the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor's office, said prosecutors generally know when to go after neglectful parents.
"Even at the local levels," Sosnowski agreed, "police and prosecutors realize that the law is overly restrictive."
There are many other more serious forms of child abuse and neglect that state's attorneys will more justifiably prosecute, he said.
With clear bipartisan support, House Bill 2334 has moved to the Senate for its approval, after which it can be sent to Gov. J.B. Pritzker to be signed into law.