Florida lawmakers wants to toughen laws against sexual offenders


Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Outraged by cases involving repeat sexually violent predators, four Florida senators filed bills Tuesday to signal an aggressive approach to protecting the state’s children.

“Together these bills will make Florida scorched earth for those who seek to harm our children,” Senate President Don Gaetz said in a statement, calling the legislation a “centerpiece” of a joint House and Senate agenda.

Filing four bills on one day shows the Senate is taking a “coordinated bipartisan and comprehensive approach,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who filed the legislation along with Sens. Greg Evers, R-Baker; Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; and Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

The bills tackle issues including length of sentences and better evaluations, changes that impact both the criminal justice system and Florida’s Sexually Violent Predator Program, which falls under the Department of Children & Families.

Bradley called the issue “very personal and very raw. We lost two precious children in our communities over the past three years” due to sexually violent predators.

Cherish Perrywinkle, 8, was abducted in June from a Jacksonville Walmart, raped and murdered. Her accused killer, Donald Smith, was a registered sex offender, had been evaluated twice and let go. Under the proposed legislation, he would not have been released in light of his previous crimes.

Somer Thompson, a Jacksonville 7-year-old, was abducted walking home from her school in 2009. Her body was found in a Georgia landfill and in February 2012, Jarred Harrell, 26, was sentenced to six life sentences without parole for abduction, rape and murder.

Bradley’s proposal (SB 526) requires the court to order community supervision after release from prison for certain sexual offenses and increases the length of sentences for certain adult-on-minor offenses.

The legislation “empowers probation offices to watch more sex offenders and to watch them for a longer period of time,” Bradley said.

The proposals come after hearings with victims and child advocates, law enforcement, medical professionals and other experts in the House and Senate stemming from a series published this year in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

“Some really bad people have fallen through the cracks,” said House Criminal Justice Chairman Matt Gaetz, who noted the Senate bills “are in line with a lot of the thinking we’ve had on the House side. We’ve been working hand-in-hand through the entire process.”

Other proposed legislation:

• SB 528, by Evers, would require registered sexual predators to report vehicle information, Internet identifiers, palm prints, professional licenses and other identifiers.

• SB 522 by Grimsley, would require the sheriff to refer a prisoner who is serving a sentence in a county detention facility for civil commitment proceedings if the prisoner is a registered sexual offender or predator and has committed a sexually violent offense. It also would add a state attorney, law enforcement officer and victim’s advocate to a team evaluating offenders considered for civil commitment.

• SB 524, by Sobel, would better evaluate the psychologists evaluating sexual predators and shorten their contract from three to one years. It would also require colleges and universities to inform students about a sexual predator’s presence on campus.

Read more Florida stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category