‘Donna’s Law’ to protect kids from predators signed by governor

Donna Hedrick, at 15, in 1971.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A law that eliminates the statute of limitations for sexual assault against minors that Florida’s Legislature earlier this year was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The bill, nicknamed “Donna’s Law” in the House after Orlando resident Donna Hedrick, a victim of alleged sexual abuse by a former high school teacher in the early 1970s, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, according to a news release. State Rep. Tracie Davis (D-Jacksonville) sponsored the bill in the House and Sen. Linda Stewart (D-Orlando) was the bill’s Senate sponsor.

Prior to this law, a victim age 16 or older had to report a sexual assault within 72 hours or face a “restrictive statute of limitations.” This law applies to any qualifying offense committed on or after July 1, 2020.

“When I think of the many lives that this bill could impact in the future and the message that it will send to people who seek to hurt children in Florida, I cannot help but think of the lives it could have touched, had there been no statute of limitations on the prosecution of sexual battery against minors on the books,” Davis said in a statement. “Finally, our most vulnerable will have the law on their side.”

Stewart called this a win for victims of abuse.

“This is a major win for survivors and shows the true power of speaking out and sharing your story. This is proof that the Florida Legislature hears your voices, and that change is made by people who show the strength to come forward and fight to protect victims,” Stewart told WKMG-TV after the bill passed in March.

Hedrick, the inspiration behind the legislation, said she was abused by her high school choral director two weeks after her 15th birthday -- something she kept to herself for more than 40 years.

When she finally shared her story, Hedrick was barred from seeking justice due to the deadline. According to Hedrick, the predator that abused her also targeted at least five other underage victims.

Stewart said she is proud to be a part of legislation that eliminated the limitation on prosecutions.

“Over the years, time limitations have continued to expand for victims, but the time has finally come for them to be removed altogether for minors. This is just the right thing to do, and I thank my colleagues in both chambers for listening to the experiences and being a part of this positive change for the future,” Stewart said.