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Governor Signs 5 Bills to Protect Children from Predatory Grooming and Other Sexual Offenses

The Florida Channel

Florida - Wednesday April 10, 2024: Governor DeSantis Wednesday signed five pieces of legislation to enhance and create additional criminal punishments for sexual predators who use the internet to prey on children.

The bills provide law enforcement with more tools to ensure sexual predators and offenders are punished to the fullest extent of the law.

“Today’s anti-grooming legislation punishes those who seek to prey on children and rob them of their innocence," said the Governor at the signing ceremony in St. Petersburg. "Florida will continue to be the best state in the country to raise a family.”

The bills signed today include:

  • HB 1545, which protects children from grooming activities and other sexual offenses.
  • HB 1131, which establishes a grant program within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create online sting operations to target sexual predators.
  • HB 1235, which creates stricter guidelines for sex offender registration.
  • SB 1224, which strengthens the role of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office and implements new training requirements to ensure law enforcement properly assesses a domestic violence situation. 
  • HB 305, which expands the evidence that can be presented to a jury in sex-abuse cases where the victim is a minor and increases penalties on those who take part in sex trafficking of minors.

HB 1545 creates the criminal offense of harmful communication to a minor:

  • Prohibits an adult from engaging in a pattern of communication to a minor that includes explicit and detailed verbal descriptions of sexual activity.
  • Increases penalties for child exploitation crimes such as promoting sexual performances or possessing child pornography.
  • Establishes this conduct as a third-degree felony, strengthening the punishments associated with child exploitation and making them more severe.

HB 1131 creates an Online Sting Operations Grant Program within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE):

  • Requires FDLE to award grant funding on an annual basis for sting operations.
  • Allocates funding to be used on computers, electronics, software, and other digital assets to conduct online child predator sting operations.

HB 1235 establishes stricter guidelines for sexual offender registration:

  • Prevents sex offenders from using a temporary residence to avoid registration.
  • Requires sex offenders to register vehicles and vessels used as living quarters with the state.
  • Requires international travel to be reported ahead of time.
  • Makes it more difficult to qualify for registration removal.

SB 1224 strengthens the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office and helps law enforcement better assess domestic violence situations.

  • Creates a new role within the Guardian ad Litem Office to assist children aging out of foster care to successful independent living.
  • Establishes the Fostering Prosperity grant program for youth and young adults aging out of foster care to facilitate trade school opportunities and financial literacy instruction and to provide college preparation tools.
  • Creates a lethality assessment that requires responding law enforcement officers to a domestic violence incident to determine if a domestic violence victim is at risk of death or serious injury and respond appropriately. This was inspired by Gabby Petito who was tragically murdered by her fiancé Brian Laundrie.

HB 305 makes several changes to existing law pertaining to offenses involving children.

  • Allows a hearsay statement made by a minor, regardless of age, to be admitted as evidence.
  • It also requires offenders convicted of human trafficking minors to be registered sex offenders on the first offense.