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Senate okays grandparents rights

The bill, awaiting House approval, gives grandparents rights when grandchildren are endangered.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2001


The bill, awaiting House approval, gives grandparents rights when grandchildren are endangered.

TALLAHASSEE -- After a prolonged and emotional debate across several days, the Senate on Tuesday narrowly approved a bill that would give some rights to grandparents who believe their grandchildren are endangered.

Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, introduced the bill in the wake of several Florida Supreme Court decisions that found other versions of the law unconstitutionally interfere with the rights of parents to raise their own children.

The bill would allow grandparents who have an existing relationship with a child to go into court and ask for a formal hearing in situations where child abuse or neglect is suspected and one parent is no longer a part of the household.

It was a subject that brought emotional appeals from senators who are grandparents. The Senate voted 19-16 in favor of the bill after Campbell amended it to remove intact families from its impact.

A similar bill is pending in the House.

Opponents of the bill complained that grandparents would be encouraged to meddle in the lives of their children and grandchildren.

"We're going to allow a single mother to be dragged into court just because grandparents don't think she is treating the kids right," complained Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami.

"None of this would happen," Campbell responded. "Read the bill. This is what happens when you stand up and demagogue and don't read the bill. There has to be an established relationship with the grandparent." Campbell said he was trying to extend some rights to grandparents to act when children are in danger. Florida courts have invalidated earlier laws on the grounds that they interfere with a parent's right to raise a child free from governmental interference.

The Florida Supreme Court in an August 2000 ruling said parents have the right to limit or exclude a child's association with a relative, including a grandparent, absent some showing that there is a substantial threat to the child's health or welfare.

Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville, said the bill would create "a whole new area of family disputes where children will be dragged into court."

"We have to decide whether parents or grandparents will make decisions," Smith said. "The issue becomes parents versus grandparents. The parents have to make the best decision they can for the child."

Campbell's bill would require a judge to determine whether a hearing was justified once a grandparent demonstrates that the child is in significant mental or emotional danger because of parental action.

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