Wednesday, October 3, 2007

New Hope for Sexual Predator Bill

TALLAHASSEE - It was one of the most seemingly reasonable ideas of the 2007 Legislature, yet it died one of the most mysterious deaths: a bill to lock up for life sexual predators twice convicted of molesting any child younger than 12 years old.

The "two strikes and out" bill by Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Jacksonville, got sidetracked by an arcane rules dispute and never got a Senate vote despite passing the House, 115-0. Kravitz recently filed the legislation again, hoping that momentum from his new chairmanship over the House Safety & Security Council will deliver it into law in the 2008 spring legislative session.

The core idea of the bill is the same: mandatory life in prison for any Floridian 18 years of age or older who is convicted of a second or subsequent offense of lewd or lascivious conduct against any child younger than 12 years of age. In a state home to such recent horrors as the deaths of Jessica Lunsford, Carlie Bruscia and Sarah Lunde, Kravitz said there is no reason why sex predators should be free to commit a crime a third time.
"Everything I have read and everyone I've talked to in the field of sex crimes tells me that predators have this natural urge that doesn't go away," Kravitz said. "There's no cure yet. They're going to do it again and again, so the only way to stop them is to get them out of the population."

Florida law was already toughened in 2005, after Lunsford's abduction and murder, to upgrade molestation from a first-degree felony to a life felony in cases where the offenders are 18 or older and the victims are younger than 12 years old. First offenses would still carry that current penalty, punishable by at least 25 years in prison. Kravitz's bill would apply to anyone convicted of a first offense on or after Sept. 1, 2005 and a second or subsequent offense on or after July 1, 2008.

Kravitz's first attempt to pass the law died after a tense, emotional debate on the last day of the spring session. Last-minute disagreements erupted over the bill's path to the Senate floor, and negotiations broke down between Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, who was sponsoring the Senate version of the bill and other senators who were trying to amend it.

"The reason the bill was blocked had nothing to do with substance. It had to do with protocol and presentation," said Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, chairman of the Senate's Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, who was involved in the talks.

There is no need to convince Ted Hires Sr. of the need for the bill. Hires, president of the Jacksonville-based Justice Coalition and a Northeast Florida resident since 1970, says he was repeatedly molested as a youth by a family friend while growing up in Jessup, Ga. The man has long since died, but Hires said he founded the coalition to help crime victims because he knows how long the scars can remain. Now 61, Hires said he struggled for years with guilt, insecurity, fear of close relationships and depression before finally telling his wife and coming to terms with the experience.

"It's the worst crime that can ever be perpetrated. Nothing else that you could do to a child even comes close," Hires said. "These people who do these things shouldn't even be given a second chance, because there's no such thing as getting over it. Period. I don't have the command of the English language to really communicate how much it made my life a living hell. The psychological damage just affects everything about you."

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