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House To Vote On Abortion Survivors, Elder Abuse, Public Money At Strip Clubs

Babies who survive abortions, people who steal from the elderly, and whether public-assistance money can be used at casinos and strip clubs were all on the agenda of one busy House committee on Thursday. The three bills are headed to the House floor after passing the Health and Human Services Committee.

Sometimes, when a woman has an abortion, the baby is born alive. It’s what happened at the unlicensed Hialeah abortion clinic run by Belkis Gonzalez, according to court records.

Anthony Verdugo, with the Christian Family Coalition, testified, “In July 2006, Gonzalez allegedly cut the cord of an abortion survivor and put the baby in a biohazard bag. Gonzalez then allegedly hid the baby on the clinic roof when an anonymous tipster notified police.”

In that case, Gonzalez was charged with practicing without a license and tampering with evidence. But under a bill, sponsored by Rep. Cary Pigman (R-Sebring), it would be a crime to not provide medical care to the infant.

Verdugo said, “We need to extend equal rights, we need to extend basic human rights to all Americans, and that includes abortion survivors.”

Current law requires care for so-called viable infants born after 23 weeks of gestation. If the law is changed, clinics would be required to take any baby born alive to a hospital and to report the live birth to the state. Failure to do either of these things would be a first-degree misdemeanor.

No one knows exactly how often abortions produce live births. That’s why, Pigman said, the state should require reporting.

“If, in two years’ time or four years’ time, we find that we have zero cases, then it’s a prayer answered,” he said. “If we find, in two years’ time, that there’s a half-dozen cases a year, then we have some issues. We need to look at how they’re handled.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Corcoran (R-Lutz) expressed concern that the criminal penalty might be too harsh. What if a clinic inadvertently forgets, he asked. But Pigman said, that’s the only way to ensure compliance.

The Senate version of the babies-born-alive bill has yet to be heard.

The committee also passed a bill that would make it easier to prosecute people for physical and financial crimes against the elderly and vulnerable. Sponsor, Rep. Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples) said, only 2 percent of crimes against the elderly get prosecuted.

“A lot of these older folks are too embarrassed to complain. They don’t want to tell law enforcement that someone took advantage of them. Some of them love the people who took advantage of them, so they don’t want to prosecute,” she said.

Stealing from someone over age 65 is already a felony if the amount is more than $300. The bill would reduce the felony threshold to $150. Anything below that is still a misdemeanor.

The measure also broadens current protections for the elderly and disabled to include all people older than 18 who can’t care for themselves, and anyone who’s impaired in any psychological or physical way.

The bill’s Senate version has two more committee stops.

And finally, the committee passed a bill restricting where people who receive public assistance can use their electronic benefit cards to buy food.  If the measure passes, it will be illegal to buy anything from strip clubs, casinos or liquor stores with the cards. Sponsor, Rep. Jimmie Smith (R-Lecanto), said, card users have spent more than $1 million at casinos and liquor stores.

“We’re here to make sure that when our tax dollars are a hand up, it’s a hand up to help kids, to keep a roof over the parents’ heads, and not to help somebody get their personal entertainment,” Smith said.

The bill is a response to a federal law requiring states to stop electronic benefit cards from being used in these places. But Rep. Mark Pafford (D-West Palm Beach) said, it’s unnecessary for the legislature to get involved. He called the bill “mean spirited” and said, “Unfortunately what’s going to happen is we’re going to start labeling these people who have to use these EBT cards as strange people who like to go to casinos and strip joints and visit liquor stores because they’re drunk all the time.”

Rep. Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City) said he’s dumbfounded how anyone could need to buy fruit at a casino, to which Rep. Katie Edwards (D-Sunrise) replied, “I actually understand how somebody who actually does have a job and is trying to work, work minimum wage, may have to use their EBT card at their place of employment, which may be a pari-mutuel or a gaming site, to go buy something that is of value.”

The Senate version of that bill has yet to be heard in a committee.