Every county in Florida could soon be required to provide a location for parents to safely exchange custody of their children, thanks to legislation now heading to the Senate floor after clearing the House with unanimous support.

The bill (HB 385) would require all court-approved plans for shared parental custody to include, unless otherwise agreed to by both parents, a list of “designated authorized locations” to hand off their children.

In cases where a parent provides evidence they or their child are at risk of harm, a court may require the parents to make the exchange in the parking lot of a county Sheriff’s Office.

The parking lot must be well-lit, accessible at all times, identified with a purple light or sign identifying the area as a “neutral safe exchange location” and have video surveillance. Each Sheriff would have to host at least one exchange site per county, though the measure places no cap on the number. 

HB 385 is named for 37-year-old Navarre woman Cassie Carli, who vanished in late March 2022 following a scheduled custody exchange of her daughter at a restaurant parking lot near her home.

Carli agreed to a last-minute location change the father requested despite fears she’d shared with friends that he wanted to hurt her. Police uncovered her body in a shallow Alabama grave six weeks later and soon arrested the father, who faces charges related to her death.

Navarre Republican Rep. Joel Rudman, who is sponsoring the bill, said pursuing legislation on domestic violence in custody exchanges was far from his mind when he ran for office in 2022 on an “anti-mask, anti-mandate platform.”

This is Navarre Rep. Joel Rudman’s second attempt at passing the “Cassie Carli Law.” Image via Florida House.

Then he met Stacy Cole, a former Alabama police officer and friend of Carli’s who presented him with a “list of items” she believed would have prevented her death. Rudman wrote Cole’s suggestions on a napkin in the donut shop at which the rendezvoused, and those ideas became the “Cassie Carli Law.”

“Everything in the bill that you guys have become familiar with, from the purple light down to using the Sheriff station … parking lots down to the video monitoring system — all these ideas came from a young woman named Stacy who loved Cassie Carli very much,” he said.

Rudman, who wore a purple rose on his lapel, then spoke directly to Cole, who watched Thursday’s proceedings from the chamber’s West Gallery.

“I hope that the magnitude of that conversation is not lost on you here today because this bill is your bill,” he said. “I was simply the vessel for you.”

Rudman filed similar legislation last year with support from Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book. It cleared the House on a 108-0 vote before stalling out in the upper chamber.

He made a few changes to this year’s version. One gives each county Sheriff authority over where the exchange site will be. Another requires a checkbox to be added to domestic violence protection forms for parents to request the use of a safe exchange location at a Sheriff’s Office.

Those slight alterations, he said, improved the bill and its chances of success this time around. Also helping the matter is the co-prime sponsorship of Hollywood Democratic Rep. Hillary Cassel, a fellow freshman lawmaker who last year successfully passed a related measure called “Greyson’s Law” adding safeguards for children at risk of parental harm.

“Rep. Rudman came to me and said, ‘Can you please help me with (the ‘Cassie Carli Law’), and it’s truly been an honor and a privilege,” she said. “His dedication, his commitment to seeing this bill get across the finish line only in his second year is just a testament to him and his character and his commitment to his community, and especially to Cassie’s family.”

Jacksonville Republican Sen. Clay Yarborough is carrying an identical companion to the bill (SB 580) that received uniform approval in its first of two committee stops.

Upon passage, the “Cassie Carli Law” would go into effect July 1.

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