Saturday, June 23, 2007

Crist on Crime

Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law Wednesday a handful of anti-crime bills, while also asking the Florida Supreme Court to convene a statewide grand jury to investigate a recent rise in gang-related violence.

"Nothing is more important than public safety," Crist said, echoing a line he used frequently during last fall's campaign, when his bid for the state's Republican nomination pivoted on his anti-crime stance. "The founding fathers understood it. It's in the first line of the Constitution: To ensure domestic tranquility."

The legislation Crist signed toughens state sanctions against sex offenders, drunk drivers, crimes against law enforcement personnel and cybercrimes involving adults who prey on children. The latter measure also will be advanced by the state's expansion of a Child Predator/Cybercrime Unit started under then-Attorney General Crist in 2005, and which state lawmakers agreed to expand this year to 55 staffers, up from its current 5.

"This will make for certain that child predators know that if they're coming to Florida to do business, they're going to be caught and they're going to be punished in a major way," said Attorney General Bill McCollum.

The legislation signed Wednesday includes:

SB 988: Requires new markings on drivers licenses and state identification cards issued to those termed sexual offenders by the courts;

SB 1004: Orders sexual offenders to register all e-mail addresses and instant-message names with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Tougher criminal penalties also are set for those who misrepresent their age when soliciting children on the Internet and for traveling to meet minors to commit crimes of sexual abuse;

SB 1604: Brings Florida in compliance with the federala Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act;

HB 409: Strengthens penalties for crimes committed against law enforcement officers on duty;

HB 25: Increases penalties for drunk drivers who leave the scene of an accident and for those who commit manslaughter. Restitution also would have to be paid to victims or their survivors.

The statewide grand jury Crist is asking Florida justices to empanel would meet for a year and investigate gang-related criminal activity across Florida. Counties named for purposes of selecting jurors include most of South Florida, suggesting that much of the panel's attention will be focused there.

McCollum's office, though, said the jury would also be following leads statewide and also could issue criminal indictments that would be prosecuted outside the South Florida region.

"What we're seeing is that no one is immune to this," said Statewide Prosecutor William Shepherd.

UPDATE: The Florida Supreme Court approved Crist's request for a statewide grand jury Wednesday afternoon. Justices named Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Kathleen Kroll to preside over the panel.

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