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Lawmakers Pass Package Of Sex Offender Reforms

Members of the House Appropriations Committee passed five different measures that do everything from requiring more information from sex offender registrants to requiring that victims and local law enforcement be notified when an offender is released from the Department of Children and Families’ care.

But some lawmakers, like Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee), took issue with a bill that would mandate a 50-year sentence for anyone convicted of a sex crime against a child or developmentally disabled adult. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar), would also elevate indecent exposure from a misdemeanor to a felony. Williams worries the provision could have unintended consequences.

“I’m just concerned that we’re trying to cast too wide of a net to solve problems that may not actually be there, and maybe some unintended consequences for some minors that we may not want to get into the system,” Williams said.

But, Tallahassee State Attorney Willie Meggs disagrees.  He’s confident prosecutors will be able to tell the difference between an innocent misunderstanding and an actual sexual offense.

“I think we can view this as another tool in the drawer that we have to use and as long as we have, as prosecutors, the discretion to decide when to use it, it probably will not do much harm or any harm,” Meggs said.

Florida lawmakers made reforming the state’s sex offender statutes a priority after a recently released sexual predator killed an 8-year old girl in Jacksonville last year. The package of House bills now moves to the Judiciary Committee for further debate.