'Omaree's Law' passes NM House

Posted at: 02/18/2014 6:18 PM
Updated at: 02/19/2014 9:01 AM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Photo: Facebook

Police say his own mother kicked him to death. Now, a 9-year-old Albuquerque boy's name and face are identified with a bill that maybe on the fast track in the final hours of the state legislature's 30-day session.

Some say Omaree Varela will not have died in vain if "Omaree's Law" actually does become law. Others say that even though it's well-intentioned, it would overwhelm the state Children Youth and Families Department.

Omaree's Law would require CYFD to immediately take custody of kids reported to have possible signs of abuse. They include burns, bruises, lacerations, broken bones and bites. CYFD officers would have to take the kid into custody for 48 hours and haul the parents in for a hearing.

One of the sponsors is a rookie lawmaker who actually knew Omaree. Rep. Liz Thomson, a Democrat from Albuquerque, is a physical therapist for Albuquerque Public Schools. She is stationed at Hodgin Elementary School, where Omaree was a student.

"I would see him around," Thomson said. "He was a sweet kid. He was really, really kind, particularly to kids with disabilities, so it affected our community in a really big way. It affected Albuquerque - the whole state."

There have been 43 reports of child abuse in Bernalillo County in just 49 days of the new year. There were 176 cases in all of 2013. CYFD says it would need thousands of new social workers and thousands of new foster families to handle the heavier caseload.

"Even if we are overburdening them I think the kids come first," Thomson said. "We can't say the inn is full, we can't take you, because if there are kids being abused or neglected, then we've got to figure out a way - how to make it work for the state."

The state House passed "Omaree's Law" on Wednesday evening. The bill now heads to the Senate.

If it doesn't pass by the time the legislative session ends on Thursday, some lawmakers say that could give them more time to think it over and look for a way to improve child safety that doesn't overwhelm CYFD, or over-respond to kid injuries that could be accidental.