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Juvenile Sentencing Bill Among Handful Of Measures Now Headed To House Floor

MGN Online

The House Judiciary Committee passed a handful of measures Thursday aimed at helping kids, all of which are now headed to the floor. They range from a bill hoping to address juvenile life sentencing to a bill toughening the penalties against teachers who step over the line with their students.

Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act

One of the first bills to pass unanimously is a measure called the “Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act,” authored by Lithia Republican Representative Jake Raburn.

“This bill was actually brought to me by a group of high school students, who recognized that we have a problem. It’s a problem that we’ve seen statewide, but especially in my home county. This bill increases the felony degree for sexual offenses committed against students by authority figures, and it also increases the severity ranking.”

Now, for example, if a 25-year-old year old teacher has sex with a 16-year-old, it’s a 2nd degree felony. Raburn’s bill bumps that up to first degree felony charge.

As a mother of two kids, Fort Myers Republican Representative Heather Fitzenhagen says she supports the bill.

“Most teachers are outstanding human beings and we place a fiduciary responsibility on them to take care of our children on a daily basis and teach them. So, to be able to step up the penalties for those who are violating that special responsibility that we charge them with, I think is a wonderful, wonderful piece of legislation,” said Fitzenhagen.

War On Synthetic Drugs, Like "Molly"

There’s also a piece of legislation cracking down on a type of drug that’s made its way into popular culture. Remember, Miley Cyrus’ song "We Can't Stop" that includes the words “dancing with molly?” Well, she’s admitted she’s singing about the street drug known informally as “molly.”

Pensacola Republican Representative Clay Ingram’s bill aims to make sure three of the synthetic compounds used to make that drug are illegal in Florida. He says his legislation builds on Attorney General Pam Bondi’s war on synthetic drugs, which are often tailored to minors.

“So, our strategy now, and our Attorney General is taking the lead on this is as drugs are found on the street, and new compounds are identified, she issues an emergency order to ban those. And, then as we come to the legislative session, it’s up to us then to put these newly identified banned compounds into statute,” said Ingram.

And, he says he can tell all their efforts are working.

“In South Florida, there was a case where there was an arrest made, and the compound the person was caught with was not on the federally banned list and they were able to make an arrest and prosecute because of the work that we’ve done here,” added Ingram.

That bill also passed unanimously. So did a measure that usually has contentious debate that aims to address Florida’s juvenile life sentencing issue.

Juvenile Life Sentencing Reform

There are what’s called Graham defendants who are sentenced to life without parole for committing a serious felony. There are also the Miller defendants who received life without parole for committing or helping to commit a homicide.

They’re given those names because of Supreme Court rulings that it’s unconstitutional to give juvenile offenders life without a possibility of parole. That conflicts with Florida law and Tampa Republican Representative James Grant is charged with addressing that issue. 

He amended his bill Friday to create a tiered system giving those juvenile offenders some sort of hearing or review, depending on the crime’s severity and how involved they were in committing it. In some instances, Grant  says a juvenile might even get a second review.

“For capital murders in the top of the Pyramid, for Graham and non-capital murders in the middle of the Pyramid, and then, a felony murder exception who did not actively participate in the actual killing at the bottom end of the Pyramid,” said Grant.

And, Natalie Kato with Human Rights Watch says she supports the new change.

“In the U.S., we believe that people under the age of 21 lack the judgment to drink alcohol responsibly and that those under 18 are too immature to sign a binding contract or to vote, yet we have laws on the books in this country that allow a 13-year-old to be sentenced to die in prison,” said Kato.

Other measures heading to the floor include a measure cracking down on those who try to take advantage of the elderly and the disabled and one aimed at limiting nursing home lawsuits.

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.