Fla. bill escalates penalties on repeat domestic violence offenders

Bill would go into effect in October if it gets to governor's desk, signed

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Legislators are worried that there may not be enough safeguards in place if a victim of domestic violence gets a protective order against an attacker. A new bill aims to tighten the screws on those people violating the orders.

If the bill makes it to the governor's desk and is signed, it would go into effect in October.

A domestic violence victim can get a protective order against a significant other that lasts a maximum of 15 days.

But Leisa Wiseman, with Florida's Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the penalties for violating that order need to get tougher.

"Basically when there's a violation of an injunction for protection, it's a misdemeanor, and no matter how many times there's a violation, it's a misdemeanor," Wiseman said.

Domestic violence in Florida isn't a small problem; the coalition answered more than 127,000 hotline calls last year.

Rep. Jose Rodriguez's bill would escalate the penalties on repeat offenders. If someone violates an injunction for a third time, they'd be hit with a felony.

"Although most people basically are scared straight after the first violation and the court order, and they don't re-violate because they take the order seriously, there are a handful of dangerous repeat violators and because there is no increased penalty, they keep seeing the same individuals for the same problem and it's a public safety issue," Rodriguez said.

House Judiciary Committee members said the bill is another tool to protect victims.

"I'm all in favor of it, and if that tool happens to be a hammer and we use it, so be it," Rep. Matt Hudson said.

The bill would apply to dating and sexual violence, as well as stalking and cyberstalking.