State Politics

Bill protecting children from abduction OK’d

MANATEE — State Rep. Darryl Rouson hosted a group of citizens who were in Tallahassee Monday to testify before a House committee in support of a bill that would strengthen protections against child abduction.

After their testimony, the Public Safety & Domestic Security Policy Committee voted unanimously in favor of the measure, House Bill 787. The bill will now move to another House committee for review, said Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

Rouson also had met earlier in the day with Kathy Mears, Gov. Charlie Crist’s legislative affairs director, on behalf of the bill, titled the “Child Abduction Prevention Act.”

The proposal would authorize the court system to impose certain restrictions if, as part of a divorce case, for example, there was a risk that one partner might violate the court’s parenting plan by abducting the couple’s child, according to the bill.

For instance, a judge might enter an order requiring surrender of the child’s passport.

“The bill would add new risk factors and new preventative measures a judge can do to help prevent child abductions,” Rouson said before the meeting.

Its provisions would apply during “divorce or any other proceeding when a family member has that potential to abduct, it most often happens in the break-up of a relationship and divorce proceedings,” Rouson said.

Testifying before the committee was Carolyn Vlk, a St. Petersburg nanny whose estranged, Czech-born husband has threatened to abduct their son, she said in a telephone interview.

She said she had to be ultra-vigilant that her husband, who was wanted on a federal warrant and had gone into hiding, did not have a chance to take the child out of the United States.

“The child is still with me,” she said. “My case is still ongoing, it’s been in the courts since October ’07. It’s still a day-to-day risk; I’ve been followed, I’ve been threatened.

“I don’t want anybody else to have to live like this, and I come across a lot of people living just as I am,” she said.

Also testifying was Kenneth Connelly, 37, of Richardson, Texas, who was abducted by his father as a child; and William Lake, 56, of northwest Florida, who said his ex-wife had abducted their daughter.

Lake said that during a 2003 divorce, he had asked the judge to hold his daughter’s passport as a precaution, but the judge failed to do so.

In 2005, his ex-wife took his daughter to Japan, where they remain.

“She’s using Japan as a kidnapping haven,” Lake told the panel, referring to his former spouse.

“If the judge had just taken my daughter’s passport, and kept it in the courthouse, it could have all been prevented,” he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.