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More Bills Cracking Down On Sex Predators Clear First Legislative Hurdles

Florida Channel
Well-known Lobbyist and co-founder of Lauren's Kids, Ron Book (left) and Florida Action Committee President Gail Colletta (right) speaking before the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee Tuesday.

Florida lawmakers advanced several bills Tuesday aimed at cracking down on the state’s sexual offenders. They’re part of a bipartisan package of legislation looking to address weaknesses in the Sexually Violent Predator Program.

Sexually violent predators are normally supposed to undergo an evaluation and could be recommended for what’s called civil commitment, where the offender is detained for treatment. But some were avoiding that process and committing new crimes, as in the murder of eight-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle, who was killed by a repeat offender.

So, Sebring Republican Senator Denise Grimsley’s bill expands the criteria for civil commitment and the list of people who are normally involved in the evaluation process to include state attorneys and law enforcement officers.

Still, Gail Colletta with Florida Action Committee says the bill could be taken a step further.

“When somebody comes out of civil commitment, they’re given a bus ticket, $100, and they’re on their way, if they have no probation left, we really don’t have any legal stand to monitor them. They should go on to some kind of step-down unit. Many of them have been incarcerated for a very long time, and don’t know how to integrate back into society. We need to put them in a step-down unit, where we can help them transition effectively, and have a concentrated area for law enforcement to see who we should be effectively watching,” said Colletta.

Meanwhile, well-known lobbyist Ron Book, representing a group called Lauren’s Kids, says the bill is a good one, especially since the matter hits close to home.  His daughter, sexual abuse victims advocate Lauren Book, was abused by her nanny when she was a child.

“These bills make it clearer for future directors and future staffs at the department to make sure that we are not letting people get out that shouldn’t get out. We need to keep them away from our children. I know! Been there, done that, I know too well,” said Book.

He also applauded the efforts of the panel’s chair, Hollywood Democratic Senator Eleanor Sobel, for a separate bill mandating that sex predator evaluators receive proper training. The bill also specifies offenders deemed sexual predators by at least two members of an evaluation team must undergo civil commitment. It passed unanimously. And, lawmakers also unanimously approved a similar proposal over in the House Healthy Families Subcommittee Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, two other bills—part of the bipartisan package—passed a Senate committee Monday looking to toughen penalties for sex offenders and deal with the statute of limitations for sex offenses.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.