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Lawmakers, cops call for support of bill named after slain Largo 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau

State Rep. Chris Latvala, left, announces Monday he is refiling a bill aimed at protecting children in the state’s child welfare system. To his right are Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who will sponsor a Senate version of the bill; Largo police Chief Jeffrey Undestad; Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; and Dr. Jim Lewis, a clinical neuropsychologist. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
State Rep. Chris Latvala, left, announces Monday he is refiling a bill aimed at protecting children in the state’s child welfare system. To his right are Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, who will sponsor a Senate version of the bill; Largo police Chief Jeffrey Undestad; Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; and Dr. Jim Lewis, a clinical neuropsychologist. [CHRIS URSO | Times]
Published Jul. 29, 2019

LARGO — Police, state lawmakers and a brain doctor laid on the pressure Monday for the Legislature to pass a child welfare bill named in honor of 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau.

Clearwater Rep. Chris Latvala, a Republican, announced during a news conference at the Largo Police Department that he will refile Jordan's Law after it stalled in the Senate during the last Legislative Session. St. Petersburg Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat, will file a companion bill in his chamber.

"Jordan Belliveau's death was tragic and unnecessary," Rouson said. "His death shines a spotlight on the inadequacies of our broken child welfare system."

IN OPINION: I will refile 'Jordan's Law' to fix our broken child welfare system | Chris Latvala

Jordan died in Largo last year just months after being reunited with his mother, Charisse Stinson. He had spent more than a year in foster care. Stinson, 22, is facing a first-degree murder charge in his death, as well as a false report charge stemming from an elaborate story she told police about Jordan's disappearance that detectives later debunked.

The Monday announcement fell on what would have been Jordan's third birthday.

The bill aims to improve communication between child welfare agencies and law enforcement and allows for, but doesn't require, DCF to create a case management program targeting children younger than 6. The program would be rolled out in up to three judicial circuits as a starting point and would limit the number of cases per case manager.

The bill also requires training to recognize head trauma in children. Brain injury is a leading cause of death in children, said Dr. Jim Lewis, a neuropsychologist who helped draft Jordan's Law. Jordan had bleeding beneath his scalp, a skull fracture and a brain hemorrhage, according to his autopsy.

Lewis also mentioned the case of William Hendrickson IV, who died in 2017 a Largo mobile home bedroom that reached 109 degrees. A young child's brain can increase in temperature four to five times faster than an older child, Lewis wrote in a May 31 op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times.

Regardless of whether the bill passes, Lewis will hold a conference in October to educate law enforcement and child welfare professionals about brain injuries in children.

"The time is past due to bring science to child safety," Lewis said Monday.

Latvala launched a website, jordanslaw.com, that includes information about Jordan's case and a petition to support the legislation. The website was funded by the Florida Leadership Committee, a Tampa political action committee that supports and opposes candidates for state and local office.

READ MORE: Autopsy shows violent end for 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau

A review of Jordan's death by the Florida Department of Children and Families slammed child welfare agencies and child protective investigators with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office for missing signs of danger in returning Jordan to his mother from a foster family.

"This report should be a call to action for the entire child welfare system," agency Secretary Chad Poppell said in a statement after his agency released the report.

READ MORE: Foster care failures uncovered in death of 2-year-old Jordan Belliveau

During the last legislative session, Jordan's Law passed unanimously in the House but died in a Senate committee. Latvala blamed Sen. Lauren Book for waiting a month to hear the bill in the committee she chairs.

"To say I'm disappointed in the actions of certain senators blocking this bill last year ... would be an understatement," Latvala said. "If you play games on a child welfare bill that's designed to protect kids' lives, then I will call you out every single time."

Book, D-Plantation, said in a statement the bill needed technical changes and that she worked to make them in a timely manner. Her committee later unanimously approved the bill.

"While unfortunately it did die, it died a better and more substantive bill," said Book, who has made child sexual abuse prevention a priority during her career.

"My history of fighting for children should be unquestioned, and this is exactly the kind of bill that I am proud to be a part of passing the right way."

Contact Kathryn Varn at kvarn@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.