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Florida lawmakers tighten limits on sex offenders

Diena Thompson reacts to the package of bills Gov. Rick Scott signedaimed at keeping sexual violent predators locked up so they can't offend again.
Diena Thompson reacts to the package of bills Gov. Rick Scott signedaimed at keeping sexual violent predators locked up so they can't offend again.

FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. – Florida Lawmakers have passed numerous laws punishing those convicted of sex crimes and this year added more laws designed to keep the worst of the worst away from your children.

The Legislature made tighter laws after it was reported that 594 sexual offenders had gone free since 1999, only to commit 463 child molestations, 121 rapes and 14 murders. Also fresh on their mind was the summer 2013 abduction, rape and murder of Cherish Perrywinkle, an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl. A registered sex offender, Donald Smith, will be tried next year for those crimes.

With Diena Thompson, whose 7-year-old daughter was abducted, raped and murdered, watching from the gallery, the Florida Senate unanimously passed four bills in March intended to make the state as inhospitable as possible to sexually violent predators.

"We created the toughest sentencing schemes in the country for these predators," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. "Florida is now scorched earth for sexual predators. If you are convicted in the state of Florida, adult on minor, you are going to spend a minimum of 50 years in state prison. And you're going to serve day for day."

Bradley said there's still work to be done on making tougher laws against sex offenders, but believes the additional monitoring put in place this year will make a big difference.

"When individuals are not in jail anymore and have been convicted of sexual crimes, what do they have to report?" Bradley said. "For instance, we now require sexual predators to identify every single vehicle that they own, and that is in their house. If they are living in a house where (they have) access to any vehicle, each of those vehicles will be reported to law enforcement, even if it doesn't belong to them."

Thompson, who has established a foundation to promote residents, law enforcement, public officials, and school systems' child abduction prevention efforts, was encouraged by the Legislature's overwhelming support for tougher laws.

"I don't know that the law would have changed it for Somer, but what I do know is that it would change it for Cherish and many other children to come, so that's really all that matters."
 


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