Bill mandates safe locations to exchange custody of minors
A House panel has approved a bipartisan measure, crafted with the help of the Family Law Section, that would mandate safe locations to exchange custody of minor children.
The House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 18-0 on December 6 to approve HB 385 by Rep. Joel Rudman, R-Navarre. Rep. Hillary Cassel, D-Hollywood, is a co-sponsor.
“This is the bill that authorizes safe custody exchanges in every county of the state,” Rudman told the panel.
The measure would authorize courts to require a safe exchange location if there is “competent substantial evidence that there is a risk or an imminent threat of harm to one parent or the child during the actual exchange,” and if it is in the best interest of the child, according to a staff analysis.
“We are actually allowing the courts to decide when, where, and how it’s appropriate to use these locations,” Rudman told the panel.
Local sheriffs would be required to designate a portion of their parking lot to make the exchanges. The lot would have to be accessible 24/7, video monitored, and identify the safe exchange location with a sign or a purple light.
The measure would also require petitions for protective orders to include a checkbox for requesting a safe-exchange location.
Republican Rep. Tracy Koster, a Tampa attorney who practices family law, said the checkbox will make it much easier for distraught victims to protect themselves and their children.
“Now there’s a box that somebody can check, and that’s much easier than trying to read and understand . . . a statute,” she said.
Dubbed “Cassie Carli’s Law,” HB 385 commemorates a 37-year-old Navarre mother who vanished in March 2022 following the exchange of her toddler daughter in a restaurant parking lot. The woman’s body was discovered six weeks later in Alabama. The child’s father is facing charges.
Rudman, a physician, said HB 385 is a revised version of a bill that won House approval last session before stalling in the Senate.
“I’m just curious, did the sheriffs support this,” asked Rep. Fiona MacFarland, R-Sarasota.
Rudman said the sheriffs support the bill now that it gives them, instead of county commissions, the authority to designate the safe exchange location.
South Florida attorney Andrea Reid told the panel she and her colleagues with the Family Law Section worked with Rudman to refine the measure, just as the section worked with Cassel last session to craft “Greyson’s Law,” a measure that gave courts greater authority to consider threats of sexual abuse and domestic violence when weighing child custody disputes.
“This is in fact one of those bills that will make a difference,” Reid said.
Family Law Section Chair Sarah Kay applauded the panel’s unanimous approval.
“The Florida Legislature has done a remarkable job of advancing public policy that puts the well-being of children and families first, and HB 385 is another example of thoughtful legislation that will have positive, real-world impacts,” she said.
The measure faces one more vote in Judiciary before reaching the House floor.
A companion, SB 580 by Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, was referred earlier this week to the Judiciary and Rules committees. It has yet to be heard.
The 60-day regular session convenes January 9, 2024.