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House Committee Approves Tougher Sex Offense Bills

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File photo of a judge's gavel. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

File photo of a judge’s gavel. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Adults who rape children older than 12 would have to serve a minimum of 50 years in prison and more sexual predators would face the potential of civil commitment under two of eight bills related to sexual offenses that a House committee approved Thursday.

Lawmakers in both chambers are hoping to pass legislation this year that would keep the most violent sexual criminals locked up longer — if not for life. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee made that clear as most of the measures it voted on passed without opposition.

They ranged from making a second and subsequent convictions of lewdly exposing genitals a third degree felony to making rape of children over the age 12 a life felony with a minimum of 50 years to be served.

And one lawmaker said even life doesn’t go far enough for those who rape the most vulnerable.

“If there was an opportunity for us to give them the death penalty, I would be one for it. I would stand with you, because those particularly individuals do not belong in our community at all,” said Rep. Kionne McGhee, a Miami Democrat and a former prosecutor. “We have to punish these sexual offenders and predators. We have to send a message to the rest of the world that we’re not playing around with them.”

The push for strong laws is inspired in large part by the death of Cherish Perrywinkle, an 8-year-old girl who was abducted in a Jacksonville Wal-Mart. Donald Smith, 56, who has a history of sexual offenses against children, is charged in her death.

One of the bills (PCB 14-06) approved by the committee would make changes to the Jimmy Ryce Act, which became law in 1998 and allows for the civil commitment of violent sexual predators once their prison terms are served. Smith was let out of jail a month before Cherish’s murder, but because it was a jail sentence, and not a prison sentence, he was not considered for a review under the Jimmy Ryce Act.

“If this was passed into law last year, a little girl in Jacksonville would be alive today. Someone had slipped through the system and this would tighten that up,” said Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast.

The law would add prosecutors to the list of entities that could ask for a civil commitment review. Right now offenders only can be recommended for review by the Department of Corrections, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Children and Families, which runs the civil commitment program. The bill also would allow reviews for offenders who are serving jail time, and not just prison time.

Among other measures approved by the committee is a bill (HB 73) that would ban sex offenders on probation from viewing pornography or any form of sexually stimulating material. Right now state law bans offenders from viewing sexual material that relates to their particular offense. The bill would make an exception for any sexual material approved as part of a treatment program.

Another bill (HB 445) would eliminate the statute of limitations for lewd or lascivious crimes if the victim was younger than 16 at the time it was committed.

People who get caught lewdly exposing their genitals more than once would face a third degree felony instead of a first degree misdemeanor under another bill (HB 161) approved by the committee.

Another bill (PCB 14-03) would require the Department of Corrections to compile recidivism statistics on sexually violent offenders released from civil commitment under the Jimmy Ryce Act.

Sexual predators and offenders would also have to provide law enforcement agencies with any internet usernames they use, as well as information about their passports, immigration status, vehicles they own, and professional licenses when they register as sex offenders under another bill (PCB-14-04) approved Thursday.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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