By Bill Cotterell
Convicted sex offenders would not be allowed to view pornography while on probation, under a bipartisan bill introduced in the Florida Legislature on Wednesday.
Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, proposed to amend existing law, which only forbids sex offenders to view, possess or have access to any "obscene, pornographic or sexually stimulating" materials that "are relevant to the offender's deviant behavior pattern."
But the women's legislation seems destined to run afoul of civil libertarians. The American Civil Liberties Union in Miami, which wages many free-speech and anti-censorship battles, said the proposal poses enforcement and constitutional problems.
"It's imperative that Florida act now to close a loophole in the law that restricts the court's ability to keep the public safe from sexual offenders," Edwards said in filing her bill (HB 73 PDF, SB 182 PDF). "This bill gives us one more tool to make sure that sex offenders don't risk relapse."
Stargel said pornography is "a catalyst to a range of sexual offenses in our culture."
"This bill is common-sense legislation. Currently, a sex offender can view pornography if it is not relevant to their sexual offense," she said. "I believe it is in the best interest of the offender and the public that all pornography is prohibited to sexual offenders, regardless of the person's prior deviant behavior."
Stargel said the bill would not change existing porn laws. She said it would not prevent an offender on probation from reading men's magazines or subscribing to cable TV channels -- unless the materials in question were deemed pornographic in court.
"Whatever criteria they're using, the only difference is that now they're having to take an extra step, to determine if the pornography is relevant to the offender's past offense," she said. "This would eliminate that step and say they can't have any kind of pornography at all."
The ACLU of Florida issued a statement saying there is no evidence banning pornography for probationers will curb sex offenses.
"Also, by expanding the universe of banned materials to any material that could be 'sexually stimulating,' the bill would make the law vague and subject to inconsistent and abusive application," said the ACLU. "Reducing recidivism and ensuring public safety require looking at genuine policy solution based on facts, not fear."