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Child-endangerment measures

As they have for years, a group of lawmakers is pushing to make it more difficult for child-welfare workers to take children out of abusive homes. Their efforts come draped in the banner "Family Bill of Rights," but don't be fooled. At best, the changes they want are unnecessary. At worst, they would put abused children in danger of greater harm or death.

The amendments move in a dangerous direction, especially in a year when child-abuse deaths have skyrocketed. Offered by Sen. John Ostalkiewicz, R-Windermere, and Rep. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, the changes would force police officers, caseworkers and doctors to get court orders before putting abused children in protective custody _ and criminally penalize those who don't.

While the House has removed some of their worst excesses, the amendments would still unduly tie authorities' hands and prompt potentially fatal second-guessing. If they survive the remainder of the session, Gov. Lawton Chiles should make sure they do not become law.

Contrary to the perception of some, removing children is already rare. The legal bases for removal are limited, and child-welfare workers must get approval from a judge within 24 hours after sheltering a child. Mandating a court order before removal may protect abusive parents _ but only at the expense of an abused child's safety.

Child-protection investigators have long been demonized, and this session is no different. Instead of working to give abusive parents new legal protections, lawmakers should give investigators the flexibility and authority they need to make the right judgment calls.

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