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Bill Holding Florida Parents Responsible For Delinquent Kids Raises Concerns

A bill that aims to make Florida parents take more responsibility over their juvenile kids who commit a crime is expected to be taken up Tuesday in its second committee stop. But, the measure could look a little different, after concerns were raised at its last stop about how different parts of the bill could negatively impact parents.

Republican Representative Dane Eagle of Cape Coral says he was driven to file the bill (HB 785) as a result of an e-mail from one of the people he represents in his district.

“Basically, she was a victim of a crime. Her home was burglarized and robbed and she had sought restitution from the plaintiffs, but they did not pay any restitution. So, I met with staff from the committee and met with two local judges in the 20th Judicial Circuit, who happened to me former legislators, Bruce Kyle and Nick Thompson, and soon learned that restitution is seldom paid, if ever,” said Eagle.

Today, it’s up to the court to decide whether the child who committed the crime should pay some sort of compensation for their crime. They could perform community service. Or that child’s parent or guardian could sign what’s called a promissory note that states they’ll pay a certain amount of money—that could either be through one lump sum or a pay plan.

A parent or guardian may also be cleared from having to be liable for that child’s criminal case, if the court finds they made an effort to prevent that child from engaging in criminal acts.

But, under Eagle’s bill, that would all change to make sure that the court requires both the child and the child’s parent or guardian be held responsible. That means the parents or guardians would be liable to pay for the act of their child. Penalties could include a lien placed on their home or their driver’s license could be taken away.

That concerned Robert Trammell, who represents the Florida Public Defenders Association.

“What kind of determination will be made by the court as to how able the parent is able to pay restitution? What happens if that parent is ordered to pay restitution and can’t pay restitution? You take the driver’s license from a parent that’s already struggling to raise a child, and is obviously having problems. How much have you helped that parent as a practical matter because the parent has lost their job because of this,” asked Trammell.

“You know, driver’s license, a lien, all that sort of thing is done, that’s done if you fail to pay a toll or if you fail to pay a parking ticket. So, that’s similar to everything else we see through the Clerk of Courts if we don’t pay our undue bills,” Eagle later responded.

Still, several lawmakers also had concerns about making parents liable. That includes Republican Representative Dave Hood of Daytona Beach Shores, who raised questions of his own with the bill’s sponsor.

“My issue is going to be from this point forward is: It’s hard for me if you’re get little Bobby and little Bobby goes and steals a car. Mommy and Daddy had no idea little Bobby had these tendencies, was on drugs, or whatever. We’re putting responsibility on parents for kids that they had no ability to change. Is that what we’re doing here,” asked Hood.

“Yes, this is strict liability. We are making our parents responsible for our children. It may be a novel idea, but yes, they will be responsible," Eagle replied.

But, Hood, not satisfied with that answer, said he intends to work with Representative Eagle to make sure parents are not strictly held liable for their kids’ actions.

“Is there anyone in here who has raised teenagers? And, if anyone in here is crazy enough to think you have the ability to control every teenager’s behavior, I don’t think so. And, so I am opposed to strict liability that puts this on the parents. There ought to be some level of culpability that has to be proven before a parent becomes liable for their kids’ restitution,” added Hood.

Some lawmakers asked Eagle to make it a requirement that parents do community service to make parents more responsible, while others promised they would work to iron out provisions, like taking away driver’s licenses. Eagle promised to work on everyone’s concerns, but he says he still doesn’t want to take away from the intent of the bill.

“One of the issues we see in our society today is lack of parental involvement, and that is what this bill is trying to do. We see it in our schools, and the kids are unable to meet their grades because the parents may be working two jobs, whatever it might be, maybe it’s not the parent’s fault. But, we can’t legislate personal responsibility. We can legislate personal responsibility when the kid is going through a criminal courts system. So, this is the intent of this. I think you all agree on that aspect of it. I’m willing to work with you on this as we move forward,” said Eagle.

The measure passed out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee 12 to 1, with a lone dissenting Democratic vote. It’s now expected to be heard in the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Tuesday.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on twitter @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.