Lawmakers push for tougher sex offender laws


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Months after an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl was kidnapped and killed by a repeat sex offender, lawmakers are pushing for change. If approved, Florida will have one of the toughest sex offender laws in the country.

Violent sex offender Donald Smith is awaiting trial in the death of Cherish Perrywinkle. Smith is just one of hundreds who has re-offended statewide after being released from prison.

"The Jacksonville case is a perfect example of how the system unfolded," said Senate President Don Gaetz.

In recent years, more than 600 sexually violent offenders, including Smith, have slipped through the system.

"I think it's fair to say something's not working," Gaetz said.

State lawmakers have now introduced legislation to get tough on sex offenders.

"We need to make sure Florida is the most unfriendly environment in America for people who want to victimize our kids," Gaetz said.

Because of sexual offenders who slipped through the cracks, 400 children have been assaulted in recent years, and 12 of those victims died.

Lawmakers have been pushing the Florida Department of Children and Families to keep kids safer.

"We are pleased that more attention has been given to this really important tropic, and we plan to continue working with them on the changes," said Michelle Gladys, Secretary of the Dept. of Children and Families.

Ultimately, lawmakers would like to keep sex predators behind bars forever, but a court will have the final say over whether a predator can return to society.

Smith's next pretrial is set for the beginning of January.