Public Safety Committee Hears Emotional Testimony

Tallahassee, FL – There was emotional testimony before the Public Safety and Domestic Security Policy Committee Monday, as members took up bills relating to public records, vehicle crashes and child abductions. Gina Jordan has more about some proposals approved by the committee.

Representative Brad Drake is sponsoring a public records exemption bill that would keep the personal information of public defenders, regional counsel and their families private. That means addresses, phone numbers, and even photographs could be off limits. Drake told the committee this bill hits home for his family.

"I had an uncle who was a public defender, and in his course of work in being the public defender of Jackson County, he got involved in a case that was very emotional, and it became very hot in the community. And as a result, my uncle passed away due to a gunshot. My aunt received hateful messages. There were people that were outside their house. There were people that made phone calls that were very harassing."

The First Amendment Foundation has expressed concerns about the bill, but Drake told the panel there are plenty of exemptions already in place for Supreme Court justices, circuit court and county judges, state attorneys, and more.

A measure relating to motor vehicle crashes provides for harsher penalties for drivers who leave the scene of a collision, especially if alcohol or drugs are involved. Tanda Caveney's 14-year-old son Scott Reeves was killed in 2008 as he walked along Highway 60 in Polk County.

"I ran to my son, and I saw the most horrifying scene. My son was laying there dead, stripped of his clothing from the impact of the vehicle."

She started an organization called Fight H.A.R.D., which stands for "hit and run drivers." She says drivers who flee have the advantage of time to make up stories. She says mandatory sentences for leaving would close that loophole.

The Child Abduction Prevention Act would amend the state statute to add new risk factors and outline preventive measures for keeping kids safe. It gives judges the power to impose restrictions on parenting plans in certain cases. The committee heard testimony from a man who was abducted by his dad in 1980 at the age of seven. Ken Connelly, a former law enforcement officer, wrote about his experience in the book "Throwing Stones."

"My mother had concerns. My father would call her and say If you don't marry me again, I will kidnap the kids.' He had issues where he would put a knife to his neck and so forth, and he would act very suicidal. So there was a history here."

The committee also heard from Captain William Lake, who asked a judge for help during his divorce in 2003. His ex-wife was a dual national who had threatened to take their daughter overseas, and that's exactly what happened two years later.

"Neither I, my daughter or my wife are Japanese. She's using Japan as a kidnapping haven. My daughter has gone through hell. She was a daddy's girl, and now she's had five years cut off from her family. She's endured abuse. Now she's sending me emails saying she'll commit suicide if she's forced to come back to the United States. All this could have been prevented if the judge had just taken my daughter's passport and kept it in the courthouse."

Lake says he'll come back to Tallahassee to see that this bill is signed into law, but it has more committee stops before going to a floor vote.

The committee also approved a measure that would actually reduce the charges for "sexting" between minors -- transmitting or distributing sexually explicit photos or messages. There would be no criminal charge for the first offense and no felony charge until the fourth violation. The measure only applies when both parties are under age 18.