Her quest to change the state's law on child
abuse might have ended in defeat this year, but that's not about
to stop Jodi Walsh.
"My work doesn't stop just because the
(legislative) session stops," Walsh, of Port St. Lucie,
said. "This is still an important issue. We have a loophole
in our case law that is open that still needs to be addressed."
Her involvement began in November 2003 when her former boyfriend
told their 6-year-old son over the phone to get a knife and
stab her. Though Edward Munao was convicted of child abuse in
2005, an appeals court threw out the conviction, saying words
alone don't amount to abuse under the law.
Since then, Walsh has formed an organization to raise awareness
of emotional abuse, lobbied lawmakers and appeared on national
television, including the Montel Williams show and the O'Reilly
After consulting with Walsh and others, State
Rep. Gayle Harrell filed a bill in the House and State Sen.
Dave Aronberg filed a counterpart in the senate during the past
session that would have clarified the state's definition of
child abuse. Currently, child abuse is defined as an "intentional
act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical
or mental injury to a child."
The Fourth District Court of Appeal found this wording was too
vague because it didn't protect First Amendment rights to free
speech and didn't define "mental injury," though the
First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee later disagreed
and affirmed a conviction in another case. Harrell's bill would
have made it a crime to verbally abuse a
child to the point it causes them to lose the ability to function.
While the bill quickly passed two House committees and was on
its way to eventually being up for a floor vote, the bill died
in a Senate committee, Harrell said. Because there was no action
on the bill in the Senate, that affected the House version,
and ultimately the House bill still was in a committee when
the session ended May 4.
"We were very disappointed that we were not able to get
all the way through the process," Harrell said. "The
last two weeks of session get very, very busy ... when one chamber
doesn't move a bill, the other chamber holds back."
Harrell said she definitely will sponsor the bill again next
year. Having Walsh lobby and speak out on behalf of the bill
has been a great help in influencing lawmakers on the issue,
"Having someone with a compelling story to tell is extremely
helpful," Harrell said. "Legislators can see the face
of the problem; they can see the issue."
While efforts to change the law would not have affected Munao's
case, Walsh said she hoped it would help others in the future.
Though somewhat disillusioned by state politics, she said she
plans to lobby Gov. Charlie Crist to find out his position on
the law and plans to continue raising awareness about emotional
"I'll be right back there next year and coming back full
force. I'd probably say much stronger than I was this year,"
Walsh said. "I will be out and I will speak the truth."
* Edward Munao, 41, of Stuart, was found guilty by a jury in
April 2005 of child abuse and solicitation to commit aggravated
battery after telling his 6-year-old son to get a knife and
stab the boy's mother during a phone call to her Port St. Lucie
* He initially was sentenced to 10 years in
prison on the charges, but the Fourth District Court of Appeal
last year threw out his child abuse conviction and knocked five
years off his sentence, saying words alone do not amount to
abuse. The Florida Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
* Munao will be released from prison in December 2008, according
to the Florida Department of Corrections.
Disclaimer: Material on this site is for informational purposes only and does not imply a
or endorsement. The views and opinions expressed are
those of the authors and/or publications and do not necessarily represent
reflect the official opinions or positions of
CHILDS CRY FOR HELP INC.