Attorney general proposes toughening laws for online sex crimes

Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 12:17 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Online sexual predators who solicit children and then travel to meet them could get up to 15 years in prison, while the penalties for other Internet sex crimes would be increased, under a bill Attorney General Bill McCollum proposed Wednesday.
Taking the step of going to meet a child after an Internet connection would be designated as a new crime under the bill, which seeks to give law enforcement more tools at every step of a crime so they can prevent direct harm to children, McCollum said.
''One thing leads to another, and we're seeing that trail on the Internet,'' McCollum told a gathering of newspaper editors and reporters at The Associated Press Florida Legislative Planning Session. ''And what the beauty of this particular project is it is a true prevention program in every meaningful way.''
The bill is coupled with a request from McCollum for the Legislature to provide funding to increase from five to 50 the number of personnel in a state office investigating Internet sex crimes. He also hopes to begin an education program for parents and children to alert them to the dangers that could be lurking on the Internet.
''On Wednesday morning at 11:20 you would be shocked by the number of people who are on the Internet trading in pictures or looking for kids,'' he said.
McCollum said Florida ranks third in the country in terms of the number of predators going online to look for children. Florida is the fourth-largest state in terms of population.
The bill would increase penalties for existing crimes such as the possession of child pornography by categorizing possession as a second-degree felony. That is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, instead of as a third-degree felony, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Also, the bill would classify each online conversation that a predator has with a child as a separate offense. The legislation (HB 573) has been filed by Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, and is being sponsored by Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, in the Senate.
The attorney general also said he opposes the automatic restoration of felons' rights, believing there are those who commit certain crimes such as murder, rape and some other sex crimes who should not receive those rights.
McCollum said he may disagree with Gov. Charlie Crist, who has indicated he supports automatic restoration of rights such as voting, once a felon has completed a sentence.
McCollum also said he was in favor of allowing local governments to choose whether they want to place cameras at certain intersections to catch motorists running red lights. That bill, which will be filed again this year, hasn't succeeded in previous years because some lawmakers have felt it is too much government intrusion.

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