Florida Sex Predator Bills Clear Senate Appropriations Committee

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By: Andy Alcock

February 20, 2014, 5pm

Somer Thompson was walking home from school in 2009 in the suburban Jacksonville community of Orange Park when the 7 year old was abducted, raped and murdered.

He body was later discovered in a Georgia landfill.

"I unfortunately don't have an option of what I can do," said Somer's mother Diena Thompson.

She testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee voted on four bills designed to toughen child sex predator laws.

"I get to wake up every morning and know that my child will never come home," said Thompson. "But all of you all have a choice to protect our children in our great state of Florida," she testified.

The measures would close loopholes for civil commitments or court ordered treatments for sex offenders, would enhance criminal penalties and require more extensive registration and monitoring of sex offenders once they're released from prison.

"We want to make Florida scorched earth for these sexually violent predators," said State Senator Rob Bradley. "We want to make our laws the toughest in the nation," he said.

Bradley, who represents Orange Park, sponsored one of the bills and wore a purple tie, Somer's favorite color.

"This issue is very raw for the people I represent in Clay County, it's very personal," he said.

"It's a long time coming, it's long overdue and I'm so proud of them for actually taking a step in the right direction towards protecting our most vulnerable and that's our children," said Diena Thompson.

There is a cost associated with the changes in Florida law proposed.

It's estimated to cost the state an additional couple million dollars in the first year.

Senator Bradley says it's well worth it.

Updated By: Florida Senate
January 13, 2014, 6:45pm

Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 494, which aims to eliminate the current 3-year statutory time limitation for prosecuting certain lewd, adult-on-minor offenses. Upon its passage, bill sponsor Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Ft. Myers) released the following statement:

“We are working to ensure Florida’s families feel safe and secure in their communities,” said Leader Benacquisto. “The predators who target our children do not deserve the benefit of running out a clock to avoid prosecution, and we are fighting so the protections are in favor of our children. Under SB 494, fewer criminals will slip through the cracks and have the opportunity to reoffend.”

For more information on SB 494, please visit http://flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2014/0494 .

Updated By: Matt Horn
January 13, 2014, 6pm

A bi-partisan bill was introduced after children in the state were killed by sexual predators that slipped through the system. State Senator Rob Bradley says this bill is personal for state lawmakers.

”It’s the worst nightmare for any parent to imagine something like this happening to one of their children. And when it happens to any Florida child, I think I speak for fellow Florida Senators and say we look at it as we do as parents.”

News Release: Florida Senate

Updated: February 20, 2014, 4pm

Tallahassee, Fla. – This week the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a legislative package that aims to substantially strengthen Florida’s protections against sex offenders, Senate Bills 522, 524, 526 and 528.

“All too often, sex offenders slip through the cracks of our criminal justice and civil commitment systems and reoffend,” said President Gaetz. “While we cannot prevent all horrific crimes, our Senate team is dedicated to providing law enforcement and our communities with the tools to make it less likely sex offenders will have the opportunity to reoffend and harm another Florida family. I commend Senators Bradley, Grimsley, Evers and Sobel for continuing to advance this important legislative package and look forward to passing it on the Senate floor early in session.”

The bipartisan legislative package is part of the joint 5-point House and Senate Work Plan Florida 2014, announced last month by Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), and received unanimous support from committee members.

Increasing Protections Against Sex Offenders

Senate Bill 522 by Senator Denise Grimsley (R-Sebring) creates an “arrest notification program” to notify DCF when an offender, previously held at the Florida Civil Commitment Center, is arrested and convicted of either a misdemeanor or felony. The bill further requires the state attorney to refer the rearrested offender for civil commitment. The legislation also allows members of the multidisciplinary team that currently evaluate offenders considered for civil commitment to consult with a state attorney, a law enforcement officer, and victim’s advocate. Additionally, SB 522 expands requirements for DCF release notifications to include the sheriff of the county in which the offender intends to reside as well as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Senate Bill 524 by Senator Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) requires a person be defined as a sexually violent predator and be subject to civil confinement after a finding by two or more members of a multidisciplinary team, and requires higher education institutions to tell students about a sexual predator’s presence on campus.

Senate Bill 526 by Senator Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island) increases the length of sentences for certain adult-on-minor sex offenses and also prohibits incentive gain-time for offenders convicted of certain sex offenses. The legislation suspends (tolls) post-release supervision of offenders while in Department of Children and Families (DCF) custody as part of the civil commitment process and requires the court to order community supervision (split sentences) after release from prison for certain sex offenses.

Senate Bill 528 by Senator Greg Evers (R-Baker) makes a number of changes to the sex offender registry requirements. The bill creates a process for relevant agencies to be notified of an order granting a registrant’s name change petition and for informing FDLE and law enforcement agencies when a registrant whose name was legally changed fails to meet requirements for obtaining a replacement driver license or identification card. The bill also requires a registrant to report specified information on vehicles the registrant owns and vehicles owned by a person who resides at the registrant’s permanent residence, Internet identifiers (prior to their use), palm prints, passports, professional license information, immigration status information, and volunteer status at a Florida institution of higher education. SB 528 also requires registrants who are unable to secure or update a driver license or identification card with DHSMV to report any change of residence or change of name within 48 hours after the change. Further, the bill requires registrants to report information regarding their intention to establish a residence in another country.

Detailed bill analyses prepared by committee staff as well as the full text of the bills listed above are available via the Senate’s website, www.FLSenate.gov.

There's a new push tonight to toughen Florida laws against sexual predators.

Donald James Smith was accused of killing 8 year old Cherish Periwinkle in Jacksonville in June.

It came just three weeks after Smith was released from prison.

In August, a report by the South Florida Sun Sentinel found nearly 600 sexual predators committed sex crimes after prison release.

The crimes included more than 460 child molestations, 121 rapes and 14 murders.

"But now we have to make sure that in our laws, in our administrative procedures that we tighten up considerably," said Florida Senate President Don Gaetz. "I want Florida to be the worst place in America for a sexually violent predator," he said.

Several bills filed for the 2014 session would lengthen prison sentences for some crimes.

They would also require more aggressive supervision of offenders after release.

Bob Rumbley of the faith based "Care Tallahassee" says his group has helped rehabilitate hundreds of sex offenders.

He says only a couple of them have re-offended.

Rumbley says longer prison sentences aren't necessarily the answer.

But he does support stronger supervision after prison.

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