By Matt Dixon
TALLAHASSEE - Knowingly allowing a registered sexual predator to use your vehicle would become a misdemeanor under legislation filed by state Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.
It’s the fifth bill filed in the Senate that proposes changes to Florida’s sexual predator laws.
Lawmakers are planning to overhaul the system after a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation found holes in the state’s sexual predator laws, and the death of Cherish Perrywinkle, a Jacksonville 8-year-old murdered in June.
Donald Smith, a registered sex offender, has been in indicted on charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual battery related to Perrywinkle’s death. The state had the opportunity to indefinitely detain Smith three separate times under the Sexually Violent Predators Act, but failed to do so.
Under Gibson’s bill, SB 562 (PDF), lending a vehicle to a sexual predator would be a second-degree misdemeanor. If the predator commits a murder or a crime covered by state sexual predator or sex offender laws, the owner could lose their driver’s license for one year.
“Donald Smith borrowed his mother’s vehicle,” said Gibson of the bill’s motivation. “This would close a loophole.”
The bill does include exceptions, including when a sexual predator is going to work, or seeking treatment.
Along with the vehicle provisions, Gibson’s bill also establishes a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew for sexual predators. The current curfew lasts from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“We are trying to protect kids waiting at the bus stop,” Gibson said. “It really has to be about community control.”
A judge can establish a new curfew if the bill’s set hours interfere with a predator’s ability to go to work.
Her bill also requires a “risk assessment” be conducted when someone pleads guilty, no contest, or is found guilty of a crime that qualifies as a sexual offense.
The assessment will be submitted to as part of court proceedings, and include “the offender’s risk of committing another sexual offense.”
Currently, the risk assessments are conducted when a sexual predator is eligible for release from prison.
In mid-December, the Senate filed a package of additional sexual predator reforms. They include: making it easier to keep a sexual predator detained, toughens sentencing laws for those convicted of committing certain sexual offenses on a minor, and increases what convicted sexual offenders must register with the state.
At the time, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he wanted to “make Florida scorched earth for those who seek to harm our children.”
The House is expected to release its reform proposals during legislative committee weeks scheduled for the second week of January.