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Florida Governor Signs Bill Expanding Protections for Abuse Victims

Published: 6/8/2012

From Fox 10 News

PENSACOLA, Fla. (WALA) - The state of Florida is cracking down on reporting child abuse.


Those who know abuse is going on and don't report it will now face tougher penalties. Governor Rick Scott signed multiple bills focused on expanding the protection of victims of sexual and domestic violence in Fort Myers on Friday.


H.B. 1355 , also known as the “Protection of Vulnerable Persons,” was one of the bills Scott signed June 8. The new law will take effect October 1.


Stacey Kostevicki of the Gulf Coast Kid's House deals with some of the most severe child abuse cases in the area.


She believes a new law that punishes those who know of child abuse and do nothing will help the victims and the state. She said Florida is already one of the strictest states in terms of reporting child abuse and as far as consequences for the abuse itself.


"Quite frankly, it's surprising that it needs to be a law," Kostevicki said. "I think it's really just bringing that to the forefront, and we're letting people know that this is a major crime and we're just not going to take it anymore."


The Florida Department of Children and Families reports about 300,000 child abuse calls to its hotline every year. Of that number, 4,500 come from Escambia County. Officials expect those numbers to rise with this new law.


DCF received additional funding and more personnel to handle the rise in calls to its hotline.


According to the law's text, knowing and not reporting abuse is now a third-degree felony instead of a first-degree misdemeanor.


But institutions like schools and universities are punished differently.


"The penalty is probably the most egregious part of this," said School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, who has mixed feelings about the law.


He said he applauds efforts to protect children.


"I have mixed feelings about the level of the fine. If an individual fails to commit, they're going to penalize the institution $1 million. There could be incidents that occur that an individual knew about, I may not know, our school board may not know that they did not report. Certainly, if we know about it, we're going to tell them to report it," he said.


FOX10 News raised Thomas' concerns to the governor's office. Scott’s press office issued this statement to FOX10:



“It is our hope the schools will never be out of compliance and have to pay that fine. But the focus of this bill isn’t so much on the fine as it is on making sure our children are protected. It is vitally important that if people know of any cases of child abuse they come forward and report it.”


Kostevicki says the bill is a step in the right direction for Florida.


"I think the Penn State scandal really brought to light that we all have an active role to play in reporting suspected child abuse," Kostevicki said.


Although he may disagree with the penalty to schools, Thomas has high hopes for the law.


"You never want a child abused," Thomas said. "If there's a way to report that, have it investigated, and make that go away for the child, you absolutely want to make that happen."


If you need to report an incident of child abuse to the DCF hotline, call 1-800-962-2873.


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