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Chris Latvala plans to file child protection bill

State Rep. Chris Latvala says he will file “Jordan’s Law,” a measure that would put protections in place for children to prevent them from becoming victims of abuse or neglect.

The proposed law is named for Jordan Belliveau, the 2-year-old Largo boy whose body was found in the woods behind the Largo Sports Complex after his mother, Charisse Stinson, struck him in the head and left him for dead.

The boy’s death came just 24 hours after caseworkers warned Stinson her son would again be removed from her care if she did not straighten up her act.

Had law enforcement and caseworkers been more aware of problems, and had Jordan not been returned to his parents’ care in the first place, his death might have been avoided, Latvala says. 

The Republican’s proposal has three main components:

— It would mandate that any child protective investigation be included in law enforcement databases so officers know if a child is potentially at risk.

— It would also allocate additional caseworkers to lighten caseloads and provide more attentive care for children in troubled homes.

— The law would require anyone involved in the child protective process, including caseworkers, law enforcement officers, and judges, to receive training on how to identify head or brain injuries in babies and toddlers.

“A baby or toddler can have a brain injury or a head injury and no one knows about it because they are so small and it’s something you don’t necessarily see from the outside,” Latvala said. “Babies that get head injuries at a young age, it will affect them throughout their lives.”

Latvala spoke with doctors who, after reviewing Jordan Belliveau’s medical history, were able to identify previous head trauma without having physically evaluated the young boy.

Latvala’s bill is in its drafting infancy and will need a lot of details. Adding caseworkers will no doubt come at a cost, as will increasing data in law enforcement records indicating protective service activity. Latvala doesn’t yet know what financial impact that will have.

Over the next two weeks, Latvala expects to figure out how to make sure the bill does not come with any unfunded mandates.

Latvala hopes the bill will gain bipartisan support. He has had conversations with fellow House Democrat Ben Diamond about potentially sponsoring the bill.

Latvala has not yet identified a sponsor in the Senate, but expects that won’t be a problem. He said his first ask will likely be Republican Jeff Brandes because Jordan lived in his district. But he’ll also consider Democrat Darryl Rouson.

Earlier this year, 4-year-old Je’Hyrah Daniels drowned in the Hillsborough River after her mother left her there. Five-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck’s father threw her from the Dick Misener bridge near the Skyway after the girl was repeatedly in and out of the child protective system. 

Latvala hopes his bill will be ready before Christmas so lawmakers can begin considering it when committees meet in January ahead of the 2019 Legislative Session that starts March 5.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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