Florida lawmakers aim to toughen laws against sex offenders

Florida lawmakers aim to toughen laws against sex offenders

Florida senators filed four bills to crack down on sexual predators, promising to make sex offender reform a centrepiece of the joint House and Senate agenda, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“Together these bills will make Florida scorched earth for those who seek to harm our children,” Senate President Don Gaetz said in a statement.

The proposed bills, which have bipartisan support, are focused on correcting loopholes that have allowed violent sexual predators to fall through the cracks. The legislation was filed by Sens. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island; Greg Evers, R-Baker; Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; and Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

The proposed legislation:

• SB 526, introduced by Bradley, would: –Increase sentences for certain sex offenses against children. More crimes could lead to a life sentence, and punishment for some repeat offenders could double to 30 years.

–Require probation to follow prison for offenders convicted of certain sex crimes against children and prohibit them from getting out of prison early for good behavior.

–Allow prosecutors to ask for a written ruling from courts that a crime was sexually motivated in cases where sex charges are reduced. That would trigger a review at the end of the sentence to determine whether the inmate qualifies for continued confinement as a predator.

–Delay the start of probation for sex offenders who are confined at the state’s sex predator treatment center. Currently, the clock runs while they are at the center.

• SB 528, introduced by Greg Evers, a Baker Republican, would:

–Require registered sex offenders to provide law enforcement with additional information, including all their phone numbers, computer sceen names, social networking and email account names, professional licenses and immigration status. They would also have to list all vehicles at their residence.

–Strengthen punishment for offenders who fail to report registration information or knowingly provide false information.

–Allow some sex offenders to request removal from the registry under certain circumstances, such as young people involved in illegal but consensual relationships.

• SB 524, introduced by Sobel, would:

— Require the state Department of Children & Families to train members of the team that recommendspredators for continued confinement.

— Require annual performance reviews and more oversight of team members.

— Limit contracted team members to one-year, renewable contracts.

— Require colleges, universities and schools to inform students and workers about the state’s sex offender registry. • SB 522, introduced by Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, would:

— Add a prosecutor, law enforcement officer and victim advocate to serve as advisers on the evaluation team. Currently, the team is made up of mental health professionals.

— Include a statement describing the impact of the offender’s crimes on victims for predators who are referred to prosecutors for continued confinement.

— Expand the sex predator review process to include registered offenders released from county jails. Currently, offenders are only evaluated when they are released from prisons and other state facilities.

— Require the state to notify county sheriffs when predators are released from the treatment center and produce an annual report on rearrest rates.

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