Concerned that there are under-the-radar problems with teen children abusing parents, state Rep. Amy Mercado is seeking to create a parent abuse reporting system that could give the parents some of the same protections the state extends to children being abused by parents.
Mercado, an Orlando Democrat, filed House Bill 431 this week, aiming to establish reporting, response and criminal charge protocols that, had they been in place, might have led to an intervention before the 2013 murder of Rosemary Pate of Ocoee by a teenage son Everett Pate, whom she had complained had abused and terrorized her for years.
“The statutes don’t define [parent] abuse; we’re trying to clarify that,” Mercado said.
And this family matter could be a family matter for the legislation. Mercado’s father, state Sen. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat, intends to file a companion bill in the Florida Senate. It would be a first for them, as Mercado is a freshman in the house and Torres a freshman in the senate, though he had spent four years in the house. And that would make it a first for the Florida Legislature, as Mercado and Torres are the first daughter-father combination to serve together.
This is not the first time around for this effort. While Torres was in the Florida House he introduced a similar bill there, while then-state Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando pushed a measure in the Senate. Thompson championed the cause on behalf of the family of Pate, one of her constituents, but the measures died. Torres and Mercado are taking it up.
Torres called it a silent problem, saying that people tend to think, “‘It’s my kid or my child or it’s a family matter; we can take care of it.’ But If you constantly are in fear… we want to make sure we provide the appropriate opportunity for these families and for parents going through what they’re going through.”
HB 431 identifies situations that would be defined as a child’s abuse, aggravated abuse, exploitation, or emotional abuse of a parent. It sets various criminal charges including misdemeanors and felonies. The abuse ranges from physical abuse and threats of physical violence to false imprisonment to financial abuse to false reports of child abuse.
The bill also establishes guidelines for reports, including by third parties, of reasonable suspicions of such abuse to the Florida Department of Children and Families, including providing immunity from prosecution for the person who reports.
Mercado said statistics show hundreds of cases of domestic violence by children against other family members reported annually in Orange County alone.
In the case of Pate, she had complained and reported alleged abuses and fear of her son for years, Mercado said. One day she was found murdered in her bedroom. Everett Pate, now 22, was arrested, charged and convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a 30-year sentence.
“Miss Pate had tried to reach out, she got a restraining order against her son and a people didn’t pay attention to her concerns and how violent her son is,” Torres said. “It’s sad.”
And it may not have needed to happen, Mercado said.
“People knew, and they called law enforcement, but there never was a mechanism of follow-up,” she said. “So what we’re trying to do through DCF is have a reporting mechanism.”
There would be a fiscal impact, as the bill likely would require additional staff at DCF assigned to handle such complaints, though the amount is undefined.
As for the parent and child taking up the parent and child bill, Torres called it, “an honor.”