May 20, 2007
Port St. Lucie mom Jodi Walsh received a firsthand
crash course in the inner workings of state politics this year.
novice-turned-activist persuaded a Treasure Coast lawmaker to
take up her push to get legislators to better define and clarify
its law on verbal child abuse - which hurts mentally and emotionally
rather than physically.
course of a year, she's amassed a lengthy contact list, testified
in front of a House committee and spoken about her personal
experiences on national television shows, including The O'Reilly
Factor and The Montel Williams Show.
bill she urged lawmakers to pass this year didn't make it through
the process before the session ended May 4.
said that just because the bill died this year, she's not giving
up on it.
definitely going to put the bill back out there again,"
said Walsh, who runs a nonprofit organization called Childs
Cry for Help while also working as a speech therapist. "I've
already started to re-lobby for it. I'm already making calls
and sending out letters."
efforts to change the law can be traced to a 2005 court case
in St. Lucie County involving her ex-boyfriend, Edward Munao.
A jury convicted Munao of child abuse and solicitation to commit
aggravated battery in connection to statements he made to their
never physically harmed the boy, prosecutors argued he mentally
harmed the child through manipulation and by encouraging the
boy to be aggressive toward Walsh. Ultimately, they said Munao
urged the boy to get a knife and stab his mother.
Munao's child abuse conviction was overturned by the 4th District
Court of Appeal because the judges ruled state law prohibits
a child abuse charge based only on statements made to a child.
The Florida Supreme Court declined to take up the state's appeal
of that decision. Munao is still serving a five-year sentence
for his conviction for solicitation to commit aggravated battery.
is a loophole in the law right now that needs to be clarified,"
Walsh said. "And the justices in the state of Florida have
left it up to the legislature."
Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, who has been a leading advocate for
the bill and sponsored it in the House, said she will make it
a priority during the next legislative session. Harrell and
Walsh said it took awhile this year to hammer out appropriate
language for the bill, and it was still in a Senate committee
when it ran out of time and the session ended.
they plan to file it as soon as possible for the next session
to avoid another timing issue.
think we're pretty happy with the language now," Harrell
said. "We want to make sure this happens. We have worked
so hard on it and carefully crafted it narrowly so that it does
not infringe on parental rights."
everyone is convinced the law needs to be changed. Miami attorney
Roy Black, who represented Munao during his appeal, said he
believes the change is unnecessary. He said it's too difficult
to put limits on parental speech - too much is left up for interpretation.
have to be very careful when you attempt to punish people for
speech. Where do you draw the line?" Black said. "I'd
rather err on the side of the First Amendment than on the opposite."
would exempt speech that is expressly protected by the First
Amendment from being prosecuted as child abuse. Walsh said she
hopes that clause will end any concerns that the law could intrude
on parental rights. The proposed bill also includes mental injury
as a crime that victims could be compensated for through a state
now and the beginning of the next legislative session, Walsh
said she wants to lobby Gov. Charlie Crist to find out where
he stands on the issue.
very confident with what we're doing," she said.
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CHILDS CRY FOR HELP INC.