Grandparents ‘reasonable visitation’ measure moves


Sen. Keith Perry [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted February 11, 2022 | Jim Ash
Florida News Bar

A House panel has approved a measure that would authorize judges to grant grandparents “reasonable visitation,” but only after a tragedy.

The Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee voted 18-0 on February 2 to approve HB 1119 by Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa.

“This bill creates an opportunity for children who have lost so much already,” Toledo said.

The measure would establish a rebuttable presumption for grandparent and step-grandparent visitation when one parent of a child has been found “criminally or civilly liable” for the death of the other parent. The presumption could be overcome if the court finds that grandparent visitation is not in the best interest of the child.

Current law allows grandparent visitation, but only in rare cases where a minor child’s parents are deceased, missing, or in a permanent vegetative state, or if only one parent is deceased and the other has been convicted of a violent felony. Even then, the grandparent must establish that the surviving parent is unfit and poses a significant danger to the child.

Rep. Michelle Salzman, R-Pensacola, said the measure represents progress.

Salzman said she knows of grandparents who have had to surrender a grandchild when a parent is released from prison. After years of care, the grandparent is suddenly unable to visit the grandchild, Salzman said.

“They can take them back without any visitation whatsoever,” she said. “There’s nothing that you can do in the law to provide that protection for them.”

The bill would not apply in those instances, Salzman acknowledged, “but it’s a great step forward.”

HB 119 faces one more hearing in Judiciary before reaching the House floor. A companion, SB 1408 by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, cleared Judiciary 9-0 on January 24. It faces hearings in the Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee and Rules.

The 60-day legislative session adjourns March 11.