By Sally Kestin and Dana Williams
Florida senators filed four bills Tuesday cracking down on sex predators in what they described as an aggressive, bipartisan effort to make Florida "the most unfriendly place in America for sexually violent criminals."
The legislation increases prison sentences and probation terms for certain sex offenses. It also changes the rules under which sex offenders can be confined after their criminal sentences end, and requires stricter monitoring of offenders and predators in the community.
Lawmakers began working on the legislation after a Sun Sentinel investigation in August revealed that nearly 600 sex offenders committed new sex crimes after being considered under Florida's predator law and set free. The law allows the state to keep predators locked up after their prison sentences end if prosecutors can prove they are likely to attack again.
"When confronted with clear evidence that current laws and administrative systems are not working well enough, the leaders of our Senate committees ... are proposing swift and comprehensive action," said Senate President Don Gaetz.
He called the bills "a centerpiece of our joint House and Senate agenda'' that is expected to pass in the early days of the legislative session that starts in March.
The bills would:
- Add new felony sex offenses that require a person to register as a sexual predator or sexual offender.
- Require registered sex offenders to report more information, including internet screen names, professional licenses, volunteer work and immigration status.
- Punish offenders who fail to report certain registration information or who knowingly provide false information.
- Increase length of sentences for certain crimes involving adults attacking children.
- Require the Department of Children & Families to train members of the team that recommend offenders for continued confinement.
- Add a prosecutor, law enforcement officer and victim advocate to serve as advisors on the team. Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat, said the bill "retools the way the state identifies sexually violent predators to give a louder voice to victims and law enforcement."
Too many repeat sex offenders have slipped through, lawmakers found after holding a series of hearings in the fall. One of them, _____, is awaiting trial for abucting, raping and strangling an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl.
"There is clear evidence the laws we have on the books are not working well enough," said Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat. He added that the legislation would "deliver some reassurances to parents that our communities and neighborhoods would be safer."
- Senate: Make Florida “Scorched Earth” For Voilent Sex Offenders
- SB-522 - Involuntary Civil Commitment of Sexually Violent Predators
- SB-524 - Sexually Violent Predators
- SB-526 - Sexual Offenses
- SB-528 - Sex Offenses