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Harsher punishment for predator teachers

32 new laws go into effect including Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thirty two new laws passed by the 2014 Florida legislative session and signed by Gov. Rick Scott got into effect Wednesday.

One of the new laws will bring stricter penalties for school officials who take advantage of students sexually.

This law was actually introduced by a group of high school students who wanted to crack down on teacher predators. Local attorney Gene Nichols said this law will affect not just school teachers, but any authority figure at a school.

Nichols said with this new law a charge can be upgraded or reclassified from a third degree felony to a second degree and a second degree to a first degree, meaning stricter punishment.

"As long as it helps someone, if it keeps a young person or two or 10 from this happening to them, then the law is well worth it," said Nichols.

About 50 teachers a year lose their licenses in Florida because of sexual misconduct with students, and with the new laws, those crimes could carry much more jail time and higher fines, and in certain cases, possibly a life sentence Nichols hopes this law sends a strong message.

"It has put teachers and school officials on notice that if you were to commit a crime against a student, a child who happens to also be a student, the punishments are now more harsh than what they have before," said Nichols.

The law is called the Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act and was created by students from a Tampa High School. Nichols says the law likely won't affect first degree felony charges but will allow a second or third degree felony charge to be reclassified to a higher charge.

"Kudos to the young people who brought this to legislature to help enforce and make tougher penalties for people who sexually abuse a student," said Nichols.

Below are some of the most high profile and controversial laws that went into effect Wednesday:

  • Pain clinics/Pharmacies: To rein in activity at a growing number of "pill mills" that often too freely dispense pain medication, doctors at the facilities now must actually examine prospective patients. They can only prescribe enough pills for three days, cannot advertise that they sell pain pills or name the pills and must register with the state and open their doors to inspections. Failure to comply means the state could revoke a clinic's registration and close its doors, fine a clinic $5,000 a day, or charge owners and doctors with a felony. Compounding pharmacies that are located in other states, but sell in Florida, will now have a new set of standards and registration requirements. The law is aimed at preventing medical disasters in cases where compounded medicines might have been contaminated. In 2012, an outbreak of fungal meningitis occurred when a Massachusetts pharmacy sold contaminated batches of compounded medicines to other Florida pharmacies. The outbreak killed 48 people.
  • Street racing: Street racers with repeat offenses will face bigger fines. Second violations will result in a fine of at least $1,000. Three or more offenses will mean fines of $2,000 to $5,000 and a possible four-year driver's license revocation. The bill was named for Luis Rivera Ortega, an Orange County teenager who was riding his bike when he was killed by a street racer doing between 50 mph and 70 mph in a 35-mph zone.
  • Cyber threats: People who send letters threatening to kill or injure someone, either signed or anonymously, already risk conviction of a second-degree felony. Now legislators have entered the Internet age by adding "electronic communication," or e-mail, to the statute. Electronic communication also includes Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media outlet. The changes include making threats to drive to someone house with the intention of inciting a fight or any other type of threat to cause bodily harm.
  • Methadone: Someone who sells Methadone, a synthetic pain killer, to a person who later overdoses and dies may now be charged with first-degree murder. Provisions are that the seller is 18 or older, and that the drug, typically used to wean addicts off heroin, is proven to be the actual cause of the overdose. First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence.
  • Homeless hate crimes: Offenses against the homeless now will carry enhanced penalties similar to those in effect based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. For example, a second-degree misdemeanor would be elevated to a first-degree misdemeanor if committed against a homeless person, and a first-degree misdemeanor would become a third-degree felony. Such re-classifications would result in stricter sentences.
  • Unborn children: This new law establishes a "crime against unborn children" charge, irrespective of term of pregnancy. (HB 59) calls for people who attack pregnant women to be charged with crimes against unborn children, regardless of the term of pregnancy. This includes domestic violence cases in which an unborn child is harmed. The penalties could also apply to someone that harms an unborn child in a car accident. This law was put into place after a man in Tampa, Florida tricked his girlfriend into ingesting a pill that caused her to have a miscarriage.
  • Sex offenders: The newly amended sex offender laws are designed to curb sex offenses, including longer sentences and strengthening rules on reporting and registering offenders.
  • Human trafficking: These new set of laws increase penalties for individuals who profit from the prostitution earnings of others or crimes involving child trafficking. The law also removes the statute of limitations for human trafficking violations. Additionally, the law prohibits any adult theater from employing minors and requires age verification on all employees.
  • Parasailing: This new law requires commercial parasailing operators to track weather conditions, be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard, and limits operation in the vicinity of any airport. This new bill is known as the "White-Miskell Act," named after 28-year-old Kathleen Miskell, who died in August of 2012 after she fell while parasailing over Pompano Beach. In 2007, Amber White, of Belleview, died after her parasail line snapped, causing her to slam into the roof of a hotel.
  • Impersonating a soldier: People who wear military uniforms to collect donations from the public, usually in camouflage at busy intersections and store-fronts, must now disclose their identity, where the money will go, and what the intended use of solicited money is for. Should a person misrepresent themselves as members of any U.S. military branch by uniform or statement, they could be convicted of a third-degree felony.