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House advances bills ‘cracking the whip’ on domestic abuse, child offenders, recovery centers, terrorism

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A litany of bills Tuesday show legislators intend to crack the whip on several social, criminal and commercial problems affecting the state.

Each bill passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, covering issues as wide ranging as child predators, domestic violence, addiction recovery homes, skimming devices, the department of corrections, probation, terrorism — and protection of marine turtles.

All the measures facing the committee were built around a single theme, improving language in bills already on the books or simply to stiffen them.

For example, take Rep. Jeanette Nuñez‘s HB 1385, which would clamp down even harder for domestic violence offenders by increasing minimum jail times in first, second and any additional charges leveled thereafter.

It raises the number of required days spent in jail if found guilty from five to 10 days in a first offense; 15 days for the second offense and 20 days for the third offense or anymore thereafter. If the domestic violence happens in front of a child, the bill proposes a first offense would raise the minimum mandate from five to 15 days, 20 for the second offense and 30 days for a third or any subsequent offense, the legislator told committee members.

The proposal would also prohibit award of attorney fees in specified domestic violence proceedings, including in cases of injunctions, and prevents a court from adjudicating the offense, except under rare circumstances

The bill would also require first-time offenders to attend a 26-week, so-called “batterers course,” which must be completed.

HB 457, proposed by Rep. Julio Gonzalez, enhances certain offenses falling under terrorism charges, raising the degrees to which an individual could be prosecuted to first and second felonies.

“This is a bill strongly needed under our armartarium of weapons to use against hard-core criminals and with that I ask for your favorable support,” Gonzalez said to the committee.

Reps. Bill Hager and Gayle Harrell introduced HB 807 to the committee, which seeks to restrict the marketing and commercialization of so-called “Sober Houses,” which are transitional dwellings often perceived as having blighted suburban residential areas, Hager argued to the committee.

“They have proliferated throughout southeast Florida, beginning with our pill mills relating to prescription pain killers,” Hager said. “I have walked the streets of these neighborhoods in each of my last seven elections and if you were to walk with me this is what you would see: you would see former middle class neighborhoods devastated; you would see them devastated from a property value standpoint, devastated from a peace and tranquility standpoint, you’d see families in these neighborhoods, where one out of three houses are sober homes, families who have paid the mortgage for 25 out of 30 years and have seen the value of their homes plummet because there are sober homes next door.”

He went on to cite instances in which young girls would be harassed with “cat calls” by addicts who looked like “death.”

The homes are based on financial referrals, bringing into question their legitimacy.

Both Hager and Harrell said their measure did not impede on the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Fair Housing Act, which have been roadblocks in trying to clean up the lack of regulation and licensing of rogue drug rehabilitation centers that essentially act as pathways of “recovery to relapse” centers, according to Hager.

Their bill looks to primarily stop the predatory marketing practices that have allowed the dwellings to spread like viruses and to put regulations and oversight on the existence of the rehab centers.

Rep. Shawn Harrison introduced HB 1429, which “authorizes subpoenas in certain investigations of sexual offenses involving child victims and specifies requirements, (and) requires nondisclosure of specified information in certain circumstances.”

The measure would also provide for “judicial review and extension of such nondisclosure requirements, (and) exempts certain records (and) objects from production,” while also provides creating the flexibility for immunity for eligible individuals in compliance with those subpoenas.

All other bills put forth before the committee — HB 343, HB 1201, HB 1203, HB 1031 and PCB CJR 17-05 passed the committee Tuesday.

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Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.

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