Child Advocates Praise Florida Lawmakers for Championing Children on Opening Day of Legislative Session

Child protection advocates today praise Florida Senate President Don Gaetz and Speaker of the House Will Weatherford for showing the people of Florida, the country and the world the importance of protecting children and families by carrying forth what they said they’d do months ago: elevate child protection issues to the forefront of the 2014 legislative session. And how much clearer could they be than by picking up comprehensive, bipartisan bills on the opening day of session and moving them forward rapidly so they get to the Governor for signing and implementation?

The four pieces of legislation (SB 522, SB 524, SB 526, SB 528), sponsored by Senators Grimsley, Sobel, Bradley and Evers, include provisions relating to the prevention of sexual violence and punishment of predators, including measures that will:

  • Expand the criteria for civil commitment screening so predators do not fall through the cracks and improve the multidisciplinary team that evaluates predators and offenders,
  • Improve awareness about area sex offenders and predators on college campuses,
  • Toll community supervision of predators so supervision begins after release from civil commitment,
  • Close a loophole in our state’s criminal statute of limitations to allow individuals victimized by sexual violence before age 16 to seek justice for the acts committed against them as children,
  • Expand the amount of information sex offenders must register with law enforcement to include internet identifiers and information about vehicles and professional licenses,
  • Enact a 50-year mandatory minimum sentence for those who sexually assault an individual with a developmental delay or disability,
  • Expand the court’s ability to allow use of service and therapy animals to aid a child victim or witness or a sexual offense victim or witness in his or her testimony, and more.

On the eve of her fifth annual 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” walk across the state, Lauren’s Kids founder and CEO Lauren Book says she is humbled and grateful to the 2014 Florida Legislature for taking ownership of this issue and making it its top priority:

Next week, I will lace up my sneakers and begin my fifth annual 42-day walk from Key West to Tallahassee…42 days in honor of the 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the United States. I walk 1,500 miles to give a voice to children whose innocence was taken, as mine was. I walk so that others never have to know the horrors I lived through. And this year, above all others, I walk in solidarity with the Florida Legislature and leaders such as Sen. Don Gaetz, Sen. Grimsley, Sen. Sobel, Rep. Will Weatherford, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Hutson, Sen. Benacquisto, Sen. Bradley and Sen. Evers.

When Senators today passed a bipartisan legislative package enhancing laws that protect our most vulnerable and punish dangerous sexual predators, they were taking a stand for the 19 million Floridians that they represent. When their colleagues in the House pass companion legislation next week, they will be taking a step in the direction of a safer Florida – the kind of Florida that Lauren’s Kids has been fighting for since our inception in 2007.

As an abuse survivor, founder and CEO of Lauren’s Kids and Vice President of the Florida Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, I applaud our lawmakers for creating smart, substantive policy that will protect our children from Florida’s most dangerous sexual predators. This legislation will ensure we catch the worst of the worst before they are allowed to commit another life-shattering act of sexual violence. We know that sexually violent predators cannot be rehabilitated, and Rep. Matt Gaetz put it best when he said that ‘no child has ever been raped in a state prison.’

To address these issues so pointedly and to pass the bills on the opening day of session? This is a legislature that gets it. This is a legislature that takes its commitment to Florida, to our children and our families, seriously. This is a legislature that is ready to Walk with me, and all Floridians, toward a safer tomorrow.

Jennifer Dritt, Executive Director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, says:

With the passage of Senate bills 522, 524, 526, and 528, Florida has resoundingly demonstrated its commitment to ending sexual violence against all citizens. Senate leadership, in conjunction with its counterparts in the House, has shaped legislation ensuring the full participation all facets of the criminal justice system in identifying offenders who pose the greatest risk to our communities, while ensuring that the statute of limitations cannot be used to escape prosecution. These initiatives, focused on identifying and holding accountable those who commit sex offenses against children, youth, and adults, coupled with our Governor’s ongoing commitment to funding certified rape crisis centers – where survivors of sexual violence, whether assaulted twenty years ago or today, can receive services – are a powerful message to survivors that their suffering matters, their voices will be heard.

John Knight, CEO of the Florida Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers, praises Florida lawmakers for their commitment to safety for children and justice for child victims. “Our legislature and its leaders speak clearly – they say what they mean, mean what they say, and back their words up with actions, as we have seen today,” says Knight. “The work done by Senate and House leaders on both sides of the aisle, protecting our most vulnerable from sexual violence and aiding those who have been victimized, will make a difference for children and families for years to come.”