DeSantis signs measures to strengthen protections for minors, increase sex crime penalties

by | Apr 11, 2024

Gov. Ron DeSantis enacted laws on Wednesday to bolster protections for minors, toughen penalties for sex crimes, and improve offender tracking and support for at-risk youth.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed into law a suite of measures Monday aimed at strengthening legal protections for minors and intensifying efforts to combat criminal sex offenses.

HB 305 introduces amendments to the current legal provisions surrounding hearsay exceptions for child victims and the criteria for designating individuals as sexual predators. Under the newly signed legislation, the age at which a child victim’s out-of-court statements can be admissible in civil or criminal proceedings, under specific conditions, is raised from 16 to 17 years old.

The bill further revises the criteria for the designation of sexual predators, specifically targeting convictions related to the human trafficking of minors for commercial sexual activity. The legislation mandates the automatic designation of individuals convicted of certain human trafficking offenses as sexual predators, irrespective of their criminal history.

“At the end of the day, we want kids to just be kids,” DeSantis said. “And when you have adults that are looking to harm them. We’ve got to step in and we’ve got to protect them and that’s exactly what we’re doing here today.”

HB 1545 intensifies legal actions against child exploitation by upgrading the penalties for specific offenses, including the use and promotion of children in sexual performances and the possession and intention to distribute child pornography. The legislation also introduces a new felony offense, targeting explicit sexual communication directed at minors.

HB 1235 revises the registration and reporting requirements for sexual predators and offenders, clarifying definitions and procedures to ensure more efficient and transparent monitoring. The law mandates the use of an Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) online reporting system for vehicle ownership changes among registered offenders and requires law enforcement agencies to promptly submit electronic records of offenders’ transient residences.

“By criminalizing the repeated graphic and sexual speech to minors, child predators will now face felony charges before causing physical trauma to their victims,” said Sen. Jonathan Martin, who joined DeSantis during a press conferene. “This bill creates a first in the nation law that provides prosecutors another tool to prosecute those who seek to harm our youth.”

In order to proactively conduct police investigations against online predators, HB 1131 establishes the Online Sting Operations Grant Program within FDLE. The program is designed to provide grants to local law enforcement agencies for the purchase of equipment and software necessary for conducting sting operations targeting online predators.Meanwhile, SB 1224 addresses the care and representation of dependent children by revising the operational framework of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office by specifying the duties of guardians ad litem and attorneys ad litem. The measure additionally introduces the Fostering Prosperity Program within the Department of Education to provide support and resources for youth aging out of foster care.


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