Heated debate over Penn State-inspired measure as clock winds downby Dara Kam | March 7th, 2012
After a heated debate on a Penn State-inspired measure dealing with child abuse reporting, the Senate included a change critics complained is overreaching and rejected repeated efforts to weaken the proposed financial penalties on colleges and universities.
The proposal (HB 1355) would require anyone to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families hotline. Now, the hotline is only required to accept reports if caregivers are suspected of sexually abusing the children. DCF officials say they take all calls and refer calls about abuse other than by caregivers to local authorities. The change would require hotline operators to process all abuse complaints.
Sen. Joe Negron said the measure goes too far and ignores personal and cultural differences regarding what constitutes abuse.
“Some people think it’s abusive to raise your voice to a child,” Negron, R-Stuart, argued. “It seems like it’s almost turning every Floridian into an informant for the government.
And Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich cautioned that the abuse hotline is already overloaded.
“We need to be very careful,” Rich, D-Weston, said. “We can revisit it next year so we don’t have everybody calling the hotline and the hotline not being able to handle it because they can’t even handle what they’re required to do now.”
Sen. Ronda Storms acknowledged that the proposal could be problematic but said she tried to narrow it with an amendment.
“I’m going to get hate mail on this but I spank. I spank my children” which could make her vulnerable to being reported as a child abuser, Storms, R-Valrico, said.
The bill is being pushed by influential lobbyist Ron Book and his daughter Lauren, a childhood sexual abuse survivor and founder of advocacy organization “Lauren’s Kids,” who watched from the first row of the public gallery overlooking the chamber.
Sen. Evelyn Lynn tried but failed to lower the penalties against college and university officials from $1 million to $25,000 and also failed to include reporting of hazing by officials and students in the bill.
But the Senate rejected her attempts.
“We can’t stick up for institutions over people,” Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said. “If the Penn State thing happened here, a million bucks wouldn’t be enough. People would want his head. I’m sorry this became a university funding issue rather than a child abuse issue.”
With two days left until the session ends, the Senate will vote on the measure tomorrow and send it to the House for approval.