Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bill to bolster child welfare

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed 21 bills into law, including measures aimed at better protecting vulnerable children and preventing inappropriate pelvic exams on women.

DeSantis’ office announced the bill signings after 9 p.m., but the list did not include some of the highest-profile measures of the 2020 legislative session, including a new budget and bills that would expand school vouchers and require parental consent before minors could have abortions. The governor will have to act on those issues before the end of June.

One of the bills signed Thursday is dubbed “Jordan’s Law,” after Jordan Belliveau Jr., a 2-year-old boy who was murdered in 2018 in Pinellas County. Jordan’s mother was charged in the murder.

The bill (HB 43), sponsored by Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, will make a series of changes in the child-welfare system, such as expanding communications between the Department of Children and Families and law-enforcement agencies, according to a House staff analysis. Also, it will require training for law-enforcement officers and a variety of people in the child-welfare system to recognize and respond to head trauma and brain injuries suffered by children.

Supporters of the bill said child-welfare workers missed warning signs before the Pinellas County toddler was murdered.

“Jordan might still be alive today, if it weren’t for inexcusable, systemic failures,” Latvala said last year when he announced that he would pursue the bill. “As the number of kids in our child welfare system continues to rise, we can’t wait any longer to take action. If the serious flaws within Florida’s child welfare system are not fixed, more children will die.”

DeSantis also signed a measure (SB 698) that will prevent health-care practitioners from conducting pelvic exams on women without written consent. Also, the bill seeks to prevent misconduct by doctors who provide fertility treatment.

“Women seeking fertility treatment in Florida will now be protected from a group of predatory physicians who commit selfish narcissistic acts, and pelvic exams will now require specific consent, except in cases of emergency, finally halting the wholly inappropriate practice of unapproved pelvic exams on unconscious women, where, at best, these exams have been wrongful learning experiences for medical students or at worst, the equivalent of a sexual assault,” Senate sponsor Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said in a prepared statement Thursday night.

Other bills signed Thursday include a measure (SB 994) that makes changes in guardianship laws; a measure (HB 73) that revamps recycling laws; and a measure (HB 835) that takes steps to address Alzheimer’s disease, including creating the position of dementia director within the Department of Elder Affairs.