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Bills to Protect Against Sexual Predators Zipping Along in Both Chambers

February 19, 2014 - 6:00pm

Florida legislators looking to move along bills that would protect the state's most vulnerable from sexual offenders have done so this week virtually without opposition.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a unanimous legislative package that aims to substantially strengthen Floridas 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 Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. 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 Sens. 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.

In the House, Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, applauded Thursday the unanimous passage of HB 73 in its third and final committee, Judiciary. It's likely to be heard quickly by the full House of Representatives when the regular session begins March 4.

HB 73 clarifies existing state law regarding access to pornographic materials by sexual offenders under probation or community supervision. Under the bill, the sentencing court must prohibit a sexual offender's viewing, accessing, possession or ownership of obscene, pornographic or sexually stimulating materials unless it is part of the offender's court-approved treatment plan.

"Protecting the public from sexual offenders is of utmost concern," said Edwards. "I am working diligently to use every tool available to our court system to help safeguard the public and rehabilitate offenders while following the protections afforded by our Constitution."

Edwards' bill has bipartisan co-sponsorship in the House. Kelli Stargel, D-Lakeland, is sponsoring companion bill SB 182 in the Senate.

Specifics on the sexual predator Senate bills are as follows:

SB 522 by 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 evaluates offenders considered for civil commitment to consult with a state attorney, a law enforcement officer, and victims 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.

SB 524 by 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 predators presence on campus.

SB 526 by 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.

SB 528 by 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 registrants 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 registrants 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.

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