Parental consent slows down in Florida Senate

Time ran short Tuesday, delaying a vote in a Senate health-care panel on a controversial bill that would require minors to get parental consent before having abortions.

The Senate Health Policy Committee met for 90 minutes to discuss the bill (SB 404), but Democrats on the panel proposed 15 amendments. While the amendments were shot down in party-line votes, the panel took time to consider all of them, which led to the time crunch.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, was critical of Democrats for filing the large number of amendments.

“Fifteen amendments, it’s just burning the clock,” he said. “I am a little bit of an efficiency guy. If you have got the votes to do something, fine. If you want to raise important questions, let’s make sure we make room for that, but don’t game the system.”

But Lori Berman, D-Lantana, defended the procedure.

“This is not game-playing,” she told reporters after the meeting. “This is people’s lives and reproductive health and our right to privacy.”

Bill sponsor Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said teenagers considering abortions should talk with their parents, who she said will show them unconditional love regardless of their decisions.

Stargel said she got pregnant as a teenager and turned to her mother for advice. While Stargel’s mother advised her to have an abortion, she chose otherwise.

But another family member of Stargel’s who got pregnant didn’t seek parental guidance, she said, adding, “there has been a forever wedge in that relationship because the person feels the guilt from never including their family members in something this vital.”

While the committee didn’t take public testimony on the bill, the meeting drew supporters and opponents to the Senate. Two Capitol Police officers stood outside the committee room during the meeting.

Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said it is common for additional officers to be present at meetings where larger crowds are expected.

“The Senate coordinates with Capitol Police to ensure the security of senators, staff and visitors to the Capitol,” Betta said in an email. “The president does not personally request specific levels of staffing, rather those decisions are made by law enforcement officers as part of the coordination between the Senate sergeant and Capitol Police.”

Florida law already requires parents to be notified if their daughters are planning to have abortions. The law also provides for a judicial waiver process that allows pregnant teenagers to circumvent the requirement.

But the bill would go further by requiring parental consent, rather than notification. Similar to the current notification requirement, the bill would allow exemptions for teens who already are parents or are in medical emergencies. 

“We don’t need this legislation,” Berman told reporters. “We have parental notification and we have judicial bypass. There is no compelling reason.”

Supporters and opponents of the legislation agree that the bill could be a test case for the reconstituted Florida Supreme Court, which struck down a parental-consent law in 1989. 

The current Supreme Court decidedly is more conservative than previous courts, after longtime justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince stepped down in January because of a mandatory retirement age. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed more-conservative justices Barbara Lagoa, Robert Luck and Carlos Muniz to replace them.

Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said she will put the parental-consent measure on the committee’s agenda when it meets again next month. Along with the Health Policy Committee, the bill would need to go to the Senate Judiciary and Rules committees before it could get a vote in the full Senate.

Meanwhile, the House Health & Human Services Committee approved a similar measure (HB 265) in October in a party-line vote. It was the only House committee that will consider the bill, meaning the measure is ready for a floor vote after lawmakers convene the 2020 legislative session in January.

© 2019 The News Service of Florida.