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DeSantis signs grandparents rights measure

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Rep. Jackie Toledo

Rep. Jackie Toledo

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a measure that expands a grandparent’s right to petition for visitation, but only in tragic circumstances.

DeSantis signed HB 1119 by Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, on June 24. It cleared the Senate 37-0 on March 9. The House approved it 112-3 on February 24.

The measure would create a rebuttable presumption for grandparent or step-grandparent visitation, but only in cases where one parent has been found criminally liable for the death of the other parent, or “civilly liable for an intentional tort causing the death” of the other parent. The presumption could only be overcome if the court finds that it is not in the best interest of the child.

Supporters dubbed the measure the “Markel Act.” Popular FSU Law Prof. Dan Markel was shot to death in the driveway of his Tallahassee home in 2014.

Markel’s parents championed grandparent rights after their son’s death and supported the measure.

Before DeSantis signed the measure, grandparents in Florida had few legal options.

They could seek visitation only when both parents are deceased, missing, or in a “permanent vegetative state,” or only when one parent is deceased, missing, or in a permanent vegetative state and the other parent has been convicted of a violent felony.

Even then, the petitioner must establish that the surviving parent is unfit and poses a significant risk to the child.

In 2020, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sponsored similar legislation, SB 1886. It died in the Judiciary Committee.

The latest version enjoyed enthusiastic bipartisan support.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Ft. Lauderdale thanked Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, for sponsoring the companion, SB 1408.

“It’s going to be a wonderful thing for families across the state of Florida,” Book said.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, quipped earlier this year that “this is the best thing that we’ve got going all session.”

“At the end of the day, many of us got more character development from our grandparents than any other person,” he said.

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