April 11, 2024

USA: Republican Governor DeSantis Signed 5 Bills Into Law Tougher Punishment For Child Groomers, Help Foster Children Transition Into Adulthood, Training For Domestic Violence Intervention

We need more of this across America. (emphasis mine)
WFLA News Channel 8 published April 10, 2024: Governor Ron DeSantis signs new bills aimed at protecting children. Comprehensive coverage of local, regional, state and national news events that affect the Tampa area are provided by the News Channel 8 First at 4:00 News team.
10 Tampa Bay News published April 10, 2024: Florida Gov. DeSantis signed 5 bills in St. Pete meant to protect kids. These new laws impact funding for online sting operations aiming at child predators in the wake of the murder of Gabby Petito, among other causes.
Forbes Breaking News published April 10, 2024: BREAKING NEWS: DeSantis Signs Into Law Tougher Punishments For Child Groomers, Convicted Abusers. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) signs into law legislation to stiffen penalties for people convicted of child grooming and other sexual abuse offenses.

10 Tampa Bay News, Florida local
written by Parisa Akbarpour
Wednesday April 10, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a handful of bills aimed at keeping kids safe from sexual predators.

During a news conference Wednesday at The Urban Stillhouse in St. Pete, the governor gave final approval to five bills. Here's what each of them do:

HB 1545: Child Exploitation Offenses

This bill specifically cracks down on the "grooming" of minors that happens online, DeSantis said.

It increases the penalties for child exploitation charges and creates a new offense of "Harmful Communication to a Minor" within Florida's criminal code.

If convicted of the crime, prosecutors would have to prove that the suspect engaged in a "pattern of communication to a minor that includes explicit and detailed" descriptions of sexual activity or "excitement."

"The fact of the matter is with the rise of the internet and social media and all these different apps that has been a playground for these predators to go in and groom these young kids," the governor said. "This whole online stuff is a major, major cesspool and even the most diligent parent is not gonna be able to do it alone."

The mother of a 7-year-old girl who was abducted and murdered by a man who had been facing child pornography charges spoke at the event.

“There is no fixing it. It sees no color, it sees no creed, it sees nothing. It has nothing to do with your religion, whether you’re a good parent, a bad parent,” Diena Thompson said.

Her daughter, Somer Thompson, was lured into a stranger's home while walking home from school on Oct. 19, 2009, in a suburb near Jacksonville. Her body was found in a Georgia landfill two days later.

This bill goes into effect on Oct. 1.

HB 1131: Online Sting Operations Grant Program

To add another layer of protection against predators, HB 1131 creates a program within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that allows local agencies to facilitate "sting operations."

DeSantis compared the operations to the NBC reality television show "To Catch a Predator" where adults posing as children talk to sexual predators online. The group worked with law enforcement to arrest adults who showed up at a staged home with the intent of having sex with a minor.

This bill goes into effect on July 1.

HB 1235: Sexual Predators and Sexual Offenders

Under this legislation, convicted sex offenders will face stricter requirements on registering and reporting their status.

The governor said the bill closes a loophole that allowed sex offenders to avoid reporting their address if it's a temporary residence separate from their main residence.

"The whole purpose of the registry is to alert other people about who may be in their communities or in their neighborhoods," DeSantis said. "And the reason why you do that is because folks who have committed these types of offenses typically re-offend, and there's a high likelihood that that could happen so we want people to be on notice."

It also requires a person to register their car or vessel if that's where they primarily live and adds extra reporting provisions for international travel.

This bill goes into effect on Oct. 1.

SB 1224: Protection of Children and Victims of Crime

This bill gets Florida's Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office more involved in helping kids who are aging out of the foster care system. DeSantis said it will help those 18-year-olds with educational and working opportunities.

Another focus of the bill applies to how law enforcement responds to domestic violence incidents. It adds training requirements to fully flesh out whether a victim is potentially at a higher risk of getting hurt or killed in the near future once the responding officers leave.

Members from the Gabby Petito Foundation and her family were at the press conference to support the bill signing.

"The bill was inspired by Gabby Petitio who of course was tragically murdered by her own fiance," DeSantis said. "Gabby's father Joe has been supporting and pushing for the language in the legislation as well as other members of the family and the foundation. today we honor those efforts by making this the law of the land in the state of Florida."

This bill goes into effect on July 1.

HB 305: Offenses Involving Children

Out-of-court statements made by any victim of abuse who is a minor are admissible in court under this bill. Previously, the court would only accept out-of-court statements made by abuse victims who are 16 years old or younger.

Leaders said this kind of evidence should be allowed to go before a jury because children who are abused may not feel comfortable making statements within a courtroom, or may have a harder time recounting the abuse under such stressful circumstances. DeSantis said the things victims share in the immediate aftermath of the abuse – before ever entering a courtroom – should be given proper consideration.

This bill goes into effect on July 1.

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