After Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed a recent bill that targeted criminals convicted of sex-related crimes, limiting how close they can come to public locations where children frequent, he declared, "Now we get to protect our children more." To demonstrate whom this legislation is intended to protect, he signed the bill into law in front of a group of parents, students, teachers and staff at a Florida elementary school in late May. However, a major segment of the population who is also directly impacted by the new laws, sex offenders living in Florida, were notably not present at the bill’s signing. This legislation, although it is just part of the many laws in Florida that seek to curb sexual predator activity, will take effect in July.

Overview of the Bill

If you are a registered sex offender in Florida, the bill will make it a first-degree misdemeanor to loiter or hang around within 300 feet of any locations where children frequently gather. It will also be a misdemeanor crime for any sexual predators who committed illegal sexual assault against children to approach in public parks or visit childcare or school facilities without notifying the staff beforehand. Taking it one step further, this new law additionally restricts sex offenders from dressing up for certain entertainment activities without prior approval, like posing as Santa Clause or a clown, which draws the attention of children.

Impact of New Restrictions

For the sexual offenders who previously had to report where they resided, typically just during the evenings, the new restrictions place further limits on daytime whereabouts. Convicted sexual predators, especially those who committed crimes against kids, must now be wary of where they travel during the day in their local communities, as well as in any other cities or towns in Florida. While existing Florida law already restricted sexual offenders from living within 1,000 feet of parks, schools and other child-friendly places, various local ordinances set additional limitations, referred to as “no-go zones,” to further exclude this group of individuals from certain areas.

A Senator Stood Alone

One Florida legislator, Senator Dave Aronberg, tried to include additional provisions in this bill to actually remove or repeal some of the current residence restrictions for sexual predators. He stated that, "Sex offenders have been pushed underground. They go homeless, don't report and they roam our streets. This is a very dangerous situation. We need more standardization and we need to keep our streets safer." Aronberg’s provision, which had to be stricken for the bill to pass, sought to increase the distance sexual criminals have to live from schools and daycare facilities from 1,000 to 2,500 feet. Aronberg’s attempt here was to try to make all the state and local laws regulation where sex offenders could live more consistent, which would give these individuals a better chance to successfully rehabilitate.

The Cost of Restrictions

There are many laws in Florida that aim to contain sexual offenders and keep them away from family neighborhoods or areas where children are present. The goals behind many of these restrictions are noble and aim to protect children, who are least able to protect themselves. However, Florida lawmaker and law enforcement officials must also realize what these laws do to the people who must follow them, those convicted of sexual offenses who must now live in or around the communities under severe restrictions. As the area in which sex criminals can work and live grows smaller, so do the chances that they will be successful in reforming their ways and participating in their communities as productive citizens.

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