Gov. Rick Scott today signed five bills into law, including a bill that criminalizes the vandalism of graves, and one that provides for birth certificates in cases of miscarriages.
Certificates of Nonviable Birth: Known as the “Grieving Families Act,” this bill (CS/CS/HB 101) allows families to request birth certificates for nonviable births in cases of miscarriages. About 10 to 15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriages, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously on May 2 and with one dissenting vote in the House on May 3, makes Florida the first state in the nation to issue birth certificates for miscarriages. The implications of the bill are unclear as it may raise questions of fetal “personhood,” a controversial concept that extends human and other rights to fetuses. In the states currently, the Centers for Disease Control finds that most states define “fetal death” as applying to fetuses of 20 weeks or more.
The bill, according to a legislative analysis, defines “nonviable birth” as an “unintentional, spontaneous fetal demise occurring after the ninth week of gestation but before the completion of the 20th week of gestation of a pregnancy that has been verified by health care practitioner.” (Stillbirths are defined as pregnancies that result in the death of the fetus at no less than 20 weeks.) The bill also prohibits the use of a certificate of nonviable birth to establish or maintain a civil cause of action for bodily injury, civil injury, or wrongful death against any person or any entity.
Health care providers who have attended to the mother’s pregnancy and diagnosed the miscarriage are required to inform the parent that she may request a birth certificate, which would then be registered with the Bureau of Vital Statistics within 30 days. The certificate would be available as a public record. However, another bill the governor signed into law today creates a public-record exemption regarding the cause of “death,” parentage, marital status, and medical information included in nonviable birth records. Parents may acquire a certified copy of the miscarriage certificate that includes the confidential and exempt information. The full document may also be provided to certain governmental agencies and upon the order of a court.
In 2003, the Florida Legislature passed a law, the “Stephanie Saboor Grieving Parents Act,” that requires certain health care providers to give the fetal remains, following a miscarriage, to the parent and give the parent information on burial, cremation or disposal. But Florida law does not contain a provision for a certificate of death, registration, or any other official recognition of death for a miscarriage.
According to the legislative analysis, the certificate of nonviable birth must contain the date of the miscarriage, the county where it took place, and the name of the fetus provided on the registration of miscarriage submitted by the attending healthcare practitioner or facility where the miscarriage occurred. If the fetus does not have a name, the Office of Vital Statistics must “baby boy” or “baby girl” and the last name of the parents on the certificate of miscarriage. If the sex of the fetus is unknown, the word “baby” will suffice. The certificate also certifies that it is not proof of a live birth, and may not be used in the calculation of live birth statistics.
The Department of Health may charge between $3 and $5 to file the certificate.
CS/CS/CS/HB 107, Criminal Offenses Involving Tombs and Memorials: The bill makes it a third-degree felony to damage or remove a tomb, monument, or other structure designed for a memorial of the dead, and a second degree felony to disturb the contents of a tomb. Cemeteries, of course, and others with authorization to disturb a tomb, are exempt. The new law is not substantially different from second and third-degree felony penalties already in place for nearly identical acts. It merely clarifies the wording.
Also signed into law today:
CS/CS/HB 229, Health Care Practitioner Licensure. This bill makes clarifying changes to State of Florida’s Impaired Practitioner Program.
CS/CS/CS/HB 865, Department of Transportation, This bill makes changes to improve the Florida Department of Transportation operations and services, conform state transportation law to federal law and current practices, and increase the financial accountability of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority.