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Chris Latvala’s 2020 legislative agenda is all about child welfare

Latvala is tackling pool safety, mental health in schools and child welfare reform.

Rep. Chris Latvala’s top priority in this year’s Legislative Session is one few could argue is not necessary.

It stems from a heartbreaking incident two years ago in which a mother killed her toddler.

Jordan’s Law, named for young Jordan Belliveau, is a response to a tragedy that never should have happened. In Jordan’s case, the warning signs of abuse and neglect were all there, but they went either ignored, unchecked or swept under the rug.

Latvala’s bill (HB 43) would provide a way for law enforcement officers to be notified when they are dealing with someone who is the subject of an open child welfare investigation.

It would require anyone who responds to child welfare cases to undergo training on how to identify traumatic brain injury in young children. It also would increase oversight of how children are reunited with parents, create a pilot program to install specialized caseworkers for children under 6 and, in some cases, reduces social workers’ caseloads.

Latvala filed similar legislation last year, but it stalled in committee. He has gone to great lengths this time to ensure that doesn’t happen again, including by creating a website promoting the bill and launching an online petition to ensure its passage.

Protecting children is at the forefront of Latvala’s agenda. In another bill (HB 229), Latvala seeks to enhance swimming pool safety by requiring additional safety regulations before residential swimming pools can pass final inspection.

Like Jordan’s Law, that bill is also named for a boy who died. The Kacen’s Cause Act is named for a 2-year-old boy who, the day before his third birthday, drowned in his family’s pool.

The law would require a combination of two safety measures before a pool could pass inspection either when being built or when a home changes hands. Those could be things like a pool fence and alarm or a door alarm and pool alarm.

Latvala is sponsoring the bill on behalf of Kacen’s mother, Brittany Howard.

It doesn’t stop there. Latvala also filed a bill (HB 3123) that would fund security improvements to the ALPHA House of Pinellas County to protect mothers and children from human trafficking.

The facility near downtown St. Pete lacks adequate internal and external security, officials say. The bill would help fund three layers of security including an external barrier, security cameras and keypads for entry into the facility, which provides services for young mothers who are expecting or have young children.

Another bill (HB 2609) would provide $734,000 from the Department of Children and Families for a program within the agency’s Directions for Living’s BabyCAT program.

The program works with parents identified by child protective investigators as having a substance abuse issue that contributes to abuse or neglect of their young children age 0-5 years. Those parents are placed into the BabyCAT program to reduce the risk of children having to be removed from their homes.

Parents in the program receive 90 to 120 days of intensive mental health case management and substance abuse treatment. The program is aimed at decreasing the number of children entering the child welfare system and increasing the number of children entering trauma-informed early learning centers.

Yet another child welfare bill (HB 2287) would provide telehealth services for Pinellas County public schools to expand nursing services to students. The bill is aimed at increasing access to mental health screening in vulnerable schools.

Latvala is also working to create a law that would limit the amount of time sick people are on the waiting list for organ donation. He filed a bill (HB 1187) that would establish an organ transplant advisory council consisting of transplant hospital representatives, doctors, patients and family members of a child who has received an organ transplant.

Latvala said the goal is to even the playing field for everyone rather than favoring large donor organizations and networks. The bill would also provide provisions to block organ donation patients from being blocked from future health care coverage based on a pre-existing condition.

Not all of Latvala’s bills address children and families. Another bill (HB 377) he filed this Session would extend the $2 per day surcharge on car rentals to peer-to-peer car rentals where private vehicle owners rent their car to someone else for use.

“I have spent the summer really getting to understand this issue with Peer 2 Peer Car Sharing. If you pay someone to use a product you don’t own, that is a rental transaction.

“Florida law says a rental car surcharge is levied on every person who rents a car. And sales tax is due on that,” Latvala said.

The fees are paid by the renter but remitted to the state by the person or entity renting the car. The tax is intended to ensure rental transactions are paying their fair share for upkeep to roads and transportation infrastructure. Latvala filed a similar bill last year, but it died.

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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