Wednesday 17 April 2024

DeSantis signs 5 NEW LAWS to crack down on groomers and sex traffickers in Florida

 Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed five new laws to intensify penalties and strengthen enforcement against those who target minors and participate in sex trafficking in the Sunshine State.

An April 10 press release from the office of the Republican governor outlined the five new laws, which are as follows:

  • House Bill (HB) 1545 prohibits adults from "patterns of communication" with minors involving "explicit and detailed verbal descriptions of sexual activity." It also strengthens penalties for possession of child pornography, promotion of underage sexual performances and similar crimes. Under HB 1545, both crimes are now considered third-degree felonies.
  • HB 1131 creates an Online Sting Operations Grant Program within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that provides for annual funding of sting operations. It also allocates money for the necessary equipment such as "computers, electronics, software and other digital assets" to conduct online child predator sting operations.
  • HB 1235 tightens standards for the state sex offender registry and bolsters the conditions necessary to be removed from it. Among the law's provisions include preventing offenders from evading registration via temporary residences. It also mandates sex offenders in Florida to register any vehicles they may possess as living quarters and give advance notice of any international travel.
  • HB 305 permits hearsay statements made by minors of any age to be accepted as evidence. It also mandates individuals convicted of trafficking minors on the first offense to be placed on the state's sex offender registry. 
  • Senate Bill 1224 enhances the Florida Guardian ad Litem Office with a new position and grant program tasked with assisting children aging out of foster care. It also mandates lethality assessments for any law enforcement responses to domestic violence reports. According to DeSantis' office, the lethality assessment was inspired by the murder of Gabby Petito at the hands of her then-partner Brian Laundrie.

Children's well-being comes first in Florida

"In Florida, we stand for the well-being and the innocence of children," DeSantis said about the new measures. "We have taken action over these many years to protect the well-being of children in a variety of ways. We're proud of that, but we also know there's always more to do."

"At the end of the day, we want kids to just be kids. When you have adults that are looking to harm them, we've got [to] step in and … protect them. That's exactly what we're doing here today."

Dave Kerner, executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, lauded the Republican governor for being "a strong supporter of families." He added that the bill signings serve as "another example of his dedication and leadership in putting the people of Florida first."

"A child's safety and innocence should never be compromised," Kerner continued. "But when it is, the laws of our state should provide swift and severe punishment. Our residents and law enforcement should have every tool to prevent these terrible people from ever having the opportunity of taking advantage of children.

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