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House panel clears bills on Caylee Anthony, pregnant inmates

Pregnant women who are inmates in Florida’s jails have been forced to go through labor and even delivery in handcuffs and shackles.  James Call reports a bill moving through the legislature would prohibit using restraints on most prisoners who are pregnant during labor, delivery and postpartum recovery.

Tampa Representative Betty Reed is the mother of five. Rather than rely on her own experience she said she went and talk to many women about giving birth.

And they will tell you it is the most difficult time in your life. The most dangerous time in your life.  And and in the life of the child.  I really would rather not say what it takes to have a baby but you have to move around. You have to move your feet. Your legs, your body, every part of your body.”

Reed is sponsoring a bill prohibiting the use of restraints on a pregnant inmate during labor, delivery and postpartum recovery unless officials determine she presents an extraordinary circumstance, such as a serious threat to herself or others. Fourteen other states have adopted similar policies. The National Religious Campaign against Torture, Planned Parenthood, The Catholic Conference and the American Civil Liberties Union has supported bills like Reed’s in other states. Ronald Bilbao is with the Florida Chapter of the ACLU.

“We’re talking about humanity here; we’re talking about a basic issue of human dignity. And a practice that is archaic, cruel and unusual, and, that has been condemned by international human rights organizations-- by the federal bureau of prisons. So I think you can’t put a price on this. You have to get rid of this practice at any cost and it just so happens the cost is so minimal that they can’t quantify it.

On average, about 80 Florida inmates give birth each year. The Department of Corrections is not challenging the cost of the proposal. According to its lobbyist Will Kendrick it has procedural concerns.

We feel like there needs to be a broader definition of what post-partum is so we can define that. The bill also transfers custody of the inmate over to hospital staff upon the healthcare doctor or nurse making that determination and not DOC.  And we think it should be done upon classification and custody level and other criteria other than just the fact what is occurring at the time because emotions do get in the process as well.”

Kendrick pledged to work with Reed to resolve Corrections concerns before the bill’s next committee stop. The Justice Appropriations subcommittee passed the bill on to the full Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote. The Senate has already passed a similar measure.

In other action. The Committee passed a measure a bill inspired by 2-year-old Caylee Anthony's death. Miami Representative Jose Felix Diaz presented the proposal to the committee.

“July 5th 2011 the Casey Anthony jury rendered not one, not two but three not guilty verdicts.  An innocent child lost her life, and there was no justice. There will never be justice for two year old Caylee Anthony.”

During the initial investigation into the disappearance of Caylee Anthony her mother Casey Anthony misled police about the girl’s whereabouts. Her body was later discovered in a wooded area. Diaz’s bill would increase the maximum penalty from a year in jail to five years in prison for knowingly making a false statement to police about a missing child.

“Whenever they are lying to police it is one thing. But whenever there is an ongoing investigation of missing child the truth is very important and it helps police to really figure out what is happening to that child. If that child is in danger the first 42 hours the first 72 hours are important. So any lies at the early stages of an investigation can really throw everything off.”

The bill moves on to the full Judiciary committee. It is similar to a Senate proposal that is in its final committee stop.