No repeat of Sandusky scandal in Florida, legislators promise

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The Legislature passed the nation’s most expansive and hard-hitting mandatory abuse reporting bill to prevent the kind of cover-ups that produced national scandals at Penn State and Syracuse.

The bill, Florida HB 1355, “Protection of Vulnerable Persons,” imposes a fine of up to $1 million each time any public or private Florida college or university whose administration or law enforcement agency willfully and knowingly fails to report child abuse that occurs on its campus, in any of its facilities, or at/during college or university-sponsored events and functions. This makes Florida the first state in the nation to better protect children from institutional cover-ups of child sexual abuse, brought to light by the Penn State scandal.

“The bill ensures that the protection of a child is treated as a greater priority than the reputation of an institution,” said Lauren Book, CEO of the Lauren’s Kids foundation, survivor of child sexual abuse and architect of the bill. “It sets a national standard in affirming that child abuse reporting is everyone’s responsibility.”

The bill also:

· Closes a loophole in the law to require that the Florida Child Abuse Hotline accepts reports regardless of who commits the abuse, even if the alleged abuser is not a direct caregiver. This provision makes Florida one of the only true, fully mandatory reporting states. No other state will have a stronger reporting law than Florida.

· Provides $1.5 million in relocation assistance for victims of sexual abuse.

“For 11 straight years the Florida Legislature has taken up legislation including things like mandatory HIV testing and full elimination of the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse victims in an effort to make certain that the children of Florida are well-protected,” said Ron Book, Florida lobbyist and father of Lauren Book. “President Haridopolos, Speaker Cannon and bill sponsors, Representative Dorworth and Senator Benacquisto continue to make certain through their leadership that we say what we mean and mean what we say. In this bill there is $4.1 million in funds to make sure that there are adequate personnel as a result of closing the loophole.”

Lauren Book also applauded the passage of HB 7049, which increases criminal penalties on sex traffickers.

“There is a large, sick sub-culture that exploits children for sex, and, as a society, we are not outraged enough to stop it,” said Lauren Book. “This bill is the beginning of a radical change in law to impose extreme penalties on people who buy sexual services from children.”

The bills will now go through the process on their way to Florida Governor Rick Scott for signature.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.