TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A new law that could lead to imposing the death penalty on people who rape children under age 12 will take effect Sunday, along with more than 30 other laws passed during the 2023 legislative session.
Other measures taking effect could lead to putting local governments on the hook for attorney fees when ordinances are deemed “arbitrary or unreasonable;” increase penalties on fans who interfere with sporting events, and require teens to at least have learner’s permits to drive golf carts on public roads.
The legislative session ended on May 5 and most legislation, including a record $117 billion state budget, went into effect on July 1, the start of the fiscal year.
The most controversial of the laws taking effect Sunday would allow the death penalty for people who commit sexual battery on children under age 12. The measure (HB 1297) likely will draw legal challenges, as U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court precedents have barred death sentences for rapists.
During a May 1 bill-signing event in Brevard County, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the measure is “for the protection of children.”
“Unfortunately, in our society, we have very heinous sex crimes that are committed against children under the age of 12 years old,” DeSantis said. “These are really the worst of the worst. The perpetrators of these crimes are often serial offenders.”
Judges would have the discretion to impose the death penalty or sentence defendants to life in prison. If fewer than eight jurors recommend death, judges would have to impose life sentences.
The bill would affect what is known as the sentencing phase of cases. Juries would still need to unanimously find defendants guilty of the crimes before the sentencing phase would begin.
The measure was approved 34-5 in the Senate and 95-14 in the House.
In voting against the measure in April, Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the bill presented her with a “quandary.”
“I love kids, and I’ll do anything to protect them,” Osgood said. “But I struggle from a faith perspective. If I believe in my faith that God can redeem and save anybody, then how do I support someone getting the death penalty? And I’m just talking about me. That’s my struggle. That’s my challenge.”
Major laws that will take effect October 1 include:
- SB 170, which could boost legal challenges to local ordinances. In part, the law requires local governments to suspend enforcement of ordinances while lawsuits play out and makes plaintiffs eligible for up to $50,000 in attorney fees if a court finds ordinances are “arbitrary or unreasonable.”
- HB 319, which sets a maximum fine of $2,500 for interfering with participants in athletic or artistic events or going onto fields or stages without authorization. Also, in the age of social media, the law prohibits people from making money off such exploits.
- HB 329, requires a court to consider electronic monitoring & location restrictions as conditions of pretrial release, probation, or community control for persons charged with certain offenses against schools or students.
- HB 431, which makes it a third-degree felony for a person age 24 and older to solicit a 16- or 17-year-old in writing to commit a lewd or lascivious act.
- HB 949, requires a learner’s permit or driver’s license for anyone under age 18 to operate a golf cart on a public road. Currently, golf cart operators must be at least 14 years old when on public roads designated for golf cart use, but driver’s licenses are not required.
- HB 1359, which increases penalties for fentanyl dealers and manufacturers. That includes imposing mandatory minimum 25-year sentences and $1 million fines for adults selling at least four grams of fentanyl to minors through such things as products that resemble candy.
- HB 1375, which prohibits battery by strangulation, which would be filed as a third-degree felony
- HB 1465, which includes boosting potential sentences for people who possess or discharge guns while involved in human trafficking. Such people will be subject to the state’s “10-20-Life” mandatory minimum sentencing law.
- HB 1367, which expands a litter law to prohibit dumping litter at water-control district properties or canal rights-of-ways unless given approval.
- SB 180: Regulation of Securities
- SB 232: Exploitation of Vulnerable Persons
- HB 331: Liens and Bonds
- SB 708: Estoppel Letters
- HB 825: Assault or Battery on Hospital Personnel
- SB 838: Proceeds Funding Motorcycle Safety Education
- HB 919: Homeowners’ Associations
- SB 942: Authorization of Restrictions Concerning Dogs
- HB 959: Dosage Form Animal Health Products
- HB 965: Driver License, Identification Card, and Motor Vehicle Registration
- HB 967: Medicaid Coverage of Continuous Glucose Monitors
- HB 1047: Offenses Against Certain Animals
- SB 1210: Public Records/Human Trafficking Victims
- HB 1263: Criminal Sentencing
- HB 1297: Capital Sexual Battery
- HB 1359: Offenses Involving Fentanyl or Fentanyl Analog
- HB 1367: Unlawful Dumping
- HB 1465: Firearm and Destructive Device Offenses
- SB 7000: OGSR/Current or Former Public Guardians
- SB 7016: Department of Corrections
- SB 7022: OGSR/Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission/Safe-school Officers
- HB 7031: OGSR/Address of a Victim of an Incident of Mass Violence
- HB 7035: OGSR/Citizens Property Insurance Corporation/Cybersecurity Data and Information
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