Lawmakers Compromise on Sex Offender Bill
Lawmakers reached a tentative compromise Tuesday on a measure that would ban sex offenders from loitering in areas frequented by children and also set a minimum statewide buffer zone on how close offenders can live to schools and day cares.
The measure, which has been before the Legislature in past years, threatened to implode last week, as last minute amendments were offered, setting the stage for the same political fights that have derailed the bill in past years. Lawmakers were all in agreement over a provision that prohibits sex offenders from loitering within 300 feet of places frequented by children such as a school bus stop, a day care or a play ground.
But the part tripping up the proposal involved restrictions on how close a sex offender could live to a school or day care center. Lawmakers initially set out to create a uniform, statewide standard of 1,000 feet, but counties, including Miami-Dade, wanted their tougher restrictions to stay in place.
The compromise agreed upon by lawmakers would set a minimum 1,000 foot standard for the state, but still allow counties to enact tougher residency restrictions, up to 2,500 feet.
Sen. Dave Aronberg, D-Greenacres, one of the bill sponsors said that he wanted a firm statewide standard, but that the compromise was a step in the right direction.
“We want to have a system where we know where sex offenders are after they are released from prison,” he said.
Florida has gotten national attention over its sex offender laws. In Miami, where the 2,500 residency restriction is in place, a colony of homeless people settled under the Julia Tuttle Causeway over the past several years. They are currently being moved into housing, and Miami officials hope the settlement will be completely destroyed by the end of the month.
Courtenay Strickland, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that a uniform, statewide policy would better serve Florida and that many counties could go to the maximum residency restriction, creating future housing problems for sex offenders.
“At the worst, this would invite counties to go up to 2,500 feet if they have not already done so,” she said.
Lobbyist Ron Book, who has advocated in the past for measures against sex offenders, hailed the bill as possibly “the most important public safety bill” lawmakers will examine all session. The loitering portion of the legislation is particularly important, he said.
“Predators and offenders went around saying, ‘ha ha ha, we can do whatever we want during the day,’” Book said.
The measure (SB 1284) passed by a 7-0 vote, but faces future tests in Senate Community Affairs, Senate Judiciary, Senate Criminal and Senate Civil Justice Appropriations. The House version (HB 119) passed the Public Safety & Domestic Security Policy Committee, but still is set to go before the Military & Local Affairs Policy Committee, Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, and the Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council.