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Amendment would expand parents' rights

The proposal would give them authority to keep track of their children, but critics say it would allow invasion of privacy.

By Associated Press
Published February 17, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - House Speaker Johnnie Byrd on Monday unveiled the wording of a proposed constitutional amendment that backers say would ensure parents' rights to eavesdrop on their minor children's phone calls, snoop in their rooms and search their school bags.

The measure, known as the Florida Parental Rights Amendment, is a response to a Florida Supreme Court ruling in July that struck down a state law that would have required parents of minors seeking an abortion to be notified. The 5-1 ruling overturned a 1999 law that was challenged immediately and never enforced.

The proposed amendment, being offered to the Legislature convening March 2, "will provide Florida voters with the opportunity to decide how much they value the rights of parents," said Byrd, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

His proposal was criticized quickly.

"Quite honestly, Speaker Byrd's proposal today makes minors property of their parents," said Stephanie Grutman, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Florida. "They want to get at every aspect of our life. Privacy is our most fundamental, basic right."

The law the Supreme Court struck down required that in most cases, doctors give a parent 48 hours' notice before a girl under 18 could get an abortion. Girls could go to a judge instead, and the law wouldn't apply in medical emergencies.

The law violated privacy rights guaranteed by the Florida Constitution, the court said.

The opinion reinforced a similar 1989 Florida Supreme Court decision that overturned a law requiring parental consent for children's abortions.

The new proposal, crafted in part by Washington constitutional attorney Jonathan Turley, does not speak to parental consent or notification but is designed to clear the way for such proposals.

"It removes the impediment," Turley said. "They will not have special rights under the privacy provision to use against their parents."

Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa, said the House wanted to avoid a wider debate on abortion by writing the constitutional amendment in such a way that it focuses on parental rights and never mentions the word "abortion."

"Parents are being locked out of decisions affecting their children, especially in Florida, where we rank among the lowest of all the states in the nation in regards to having parental rights," Murman said.

Turley predicted the amendment would withstand the court's scrutiny. It would require three-fifths approval by the Senate and the House to be put on the fall ballot.

[Last modified February 17, 2004, 01:05:15]


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