By James Call
While state corrections officials prepared to execute the man found to have committed the notorious 1995 murder of 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce, the House Appropriation Committee passed a package of bills expanding the reach and increasing the punishment of the Jimmy Ryce Act. Under the 1998 law, sexual predators can be detained through civil commitment even after they have served their prison sentences.
The most far-reaching measure approved Wednesday was HB 7027 by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. It would impose a mandatory minimum sentence of 50 years for those convicted of the rape or torture of children, the disabled and seniors.
“There is a big price tag on this bill but I think that’s because it accurately reflects the values of this House and the values of the state to ensure that violent sexual predators are not among us in the community,” Gaetz said. A staff analysis fixed an annual cost of $41 million by 2020 if the proposal becomes law.
Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, wanted to exempt a defendant from a 50-year sentence if the defendant completed a treatment program. Rouson said he did not understand the “magic behind 50.”
- It's all about appearing "tough" on crime and to get ones name on a bill that punishes ex-offenders for their own agenda / reputation, nothing more in our opinion. We believe Florida already has the Jessica Lunsford Act which is 25 to life for certain crimes.
“If someone is 16 years old when they become a sexually violent offender and does 50 years and gets out at 66 years old how do we know that person won’t reoffend,” Rouson said. “If one has committed a crime of violent, reprehensible, unconscionable nature then we ought to look towards education, treatment and prevention at the same time that we’re talking about punishment. That’s all.”
Rouson withdrew his amendment after it was debated, noting Florida does have a problem with mandatory minimum sentences and that he preferred having the debate in commitee rather than on the House floor.
“I will never balance the cost of incarceration against the emotional psychological cost of a young victim, ever,” said Rouson, a former prosecutor, who added that he does believe some people are wired wrong. “But the debate here is about what is the magic of 50? The debate here is about if there is opportunity for treatment, if there is opportunity for redemption then in a civilized society we do that.”
The measure cleared the committee with a unanimous vote. The other five bills approved by Appropriations dealt with provisions of the Jimmy Ryce Act. They are:
- HB 7013 directs the Department of Children and Families to conduct a long-term study of the recidivism data of people released from the Civil Commitment Center;
- HB 7017 would no longer allow confinement at the Civil Commitment Center to be considered time spent under community supervision. Many sexual offenders are sentenced to a prison term and a period of community supervision;
- HB 7019 expands the Ryce Act to include state attorneys among officials authorized to refer people for involuntary civil commitment;
- HB 7021 requires the multidisciplinary team that determines whether a sexual offender is released from custody to include psychiatrists with experience in treating people with mental abnormalities. Plus if one member of the three-person team disagrees with an evaluation then a second evaluation is required;
- HB 7025 brings Florida law further in line with the federal Adam Walsh Act (named after a Florida victim of sexual child abuse and murder) by including misconduct with a developmentally disabled person, a patient and a forensic client. The proposal also requires convicted predators to provide their county sheriff and FDLE with any Internet identifier and information about vehicles and professional licenses.
The set of bills is being termed the House’s Protecting Florida’s Vulnerable Initiative. The next committee stop for HB 7021 is the Health and Human Services Committee. The other four bills are referred to the Judiciary Committee.