'Grandparents rights' bill draws Florida lawmakers' support

By Jeff Allen, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, March 19, 2015, 9:08 PM EDT

It’s been more than three years now since Yvonne Stewart has seen her daughter Michelle Parker. 

“She left our beauty salon and said ‘Mom, I’ll see ya later’ and we haven’t seen her since,” Stewart told the Florida House Judiciary Committee in Tallahassee Thursday afternoon.

Stewart said it’s also been three years since she’s seen Parker’s children, who are now with their father, Dale Smith. Smith remains the only suspect in Parker’s disappearance.

“I want to see the babies. I was with them since they were 13 days old. They were three. And I didn’t know in Florida I didn’t have the right to ask to see my grandchildren, and right now he calls all the shots,” said Stewart.

Stewart is pushing Florida lawmakers to pass a grandparents' rights bill.  The law would allow grandparents to ask a judge for visitation rights to their grandchildren in cases where their son or daughter was killed, in a vegetative state or, in Stewart’s case, missing.

“And I’m asking you to please help me get in front of a judge to tell my story, because those kids are going to need us when they find out who their dad is and what he’s accused of.  And they don’t even know Michelle’s name,” said Stewart.

A similar bill in last year’s legislative session stopped just short of passing. Lawmakers have tweaked some of the language of the bill, and it’s made it further this year than ever before.

Stewart is optimistic this year it will pass and become law.

“I love her, and I love them, and I’m asking you to please help me to get there and pass this amendment for us – this bill,” said Stewart, who was very emotional as she spoke to the lawmakers.

The grandparents’ rights bill has now passed all Florida House committees and lawmakers are expected to vote on it soon.

It still has to pass three committees in the Florida Senate before all the senators will get to vote on it.

Dale Smith has never been charged in the disappearance of Michelle Parker and he maintains he had nothing to do with her disappearance. 

We reached out to Smith through his attorneys Thursday. NeJame law partner Rajan Joshi released the following statement:

“Dale Smith has consistently denied any involvement in the disappearance of Michelle Parker.  More importantly, from the very beginning he voluntarily provided statements to law enforcement and he voluntarily allowed law enforcement to search his home and anywhere else they desired.  There has been absolutely no evidence linking him to Michelle Parker's disappearance after over  3  years. This includes an exhaustive search of his phone records, talking to a variety of investigative witnesses and even speaking to his minor children.  Mr. Smith would like nothing more than to have the person or persons responsible for Ms. Parker’s disappearance brought to justice and clear his name because he had nothing to do with her disappearance.

"Mr. Smith has chosen to give no further statements so he can raise his children in peace and keep them out of the limelight. He is providing a stable, loving and secure home for his children and that is what is most paramount to him.

"Mr. Smith has the utmost sympathy for Michelle’s family.  He had allowed Ms. Stewart to have visitation with his children on multiple occasions in the past after Michelle’s disappearance. However, since she and her family have continued to accuse Mr. Smith of being responsible for Michelle’s disappearance without any evidence to support such egregious allegations, and they went so far as to file a civil lawsuit against him, his efforts to try to establish a healthy relationship with Ms. Stewart and her family have unfortunately been in vain, and he is only looking out for the best interest of his children.”