Miami Herald, April 25, 1998

Florida child abuser rights amendment holding firm
By Tyler Bridges
Herald Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Lawton Chiles wants lawmakers to kill a proposal pushed by conservatives that would require police and child abuse caseworkers to get a judge's permission before they can place a child in protective custody.

But lawmakers are trying for force the governor's hand, tying the proposal to a foster care bill the Legislature must approve to collect $129 million in federal funds.

``We hate it,'' said April Herrle, the governor's spokeswoman. She said Chiles wants lawmakers to remove the amendment from the foster care bill.

But supporters are standing firm.

``You cannot take peoples' property without a warrant,'' says Rep. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville. ``Why allow it with children?''

The House on a 62-52 vote approved Wise's amendment that would require the judge's intervention unless the child faced imminent danger, in which case the police or caseworkers could act on their own, as current law allows.

``The system abuses kids,'' says Wise, arguing that caseworkers too often take a child from a home with no more evidence than a neighbor's unfounded phone call.''

Wise attached the amendment to a bill (H 3883) that the Legislature must approve to collect $129 million in federal funds for foster care. The bill requires officials to take steps to ensure the safety and health of children in deciding how to proceed in abuse cases.

While Wise and Sen. John Ostalkiewicz, R-Windemere, who is championing the measure in the Senate -- which has not yet voted on the bill -- say it would help children, Rep. Steve Effman, D-Sunrise, says it would have the opposite effect.

It would be ``very dangerous to the life and health of kids,'' said Effman, a divorce lawyer. He says police and caseworkers often cannot wait to obtain a judge's approval without risking an abused child's health.

``A cop could bring in a child who had been raped by her father,'' Effman said. If the police officer wanted to put the children into protective custody, Effman said, he would not be able to do so until he had reached a judge, which may not be possible late at night.

``The father can say, `Give me my child, I'm taking her home.' That won't protect the lives of kids in Florida.''

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