A bill from state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation. closing a loophole in Florida’s sex offender law was unanimously passed by the Florida Senate on Tuesday and will now head to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for signing into law.
Book filed the bill in response to an identified oversight in Florida law which has allowed sex offenders to avoid registration by failing to pay fines. The bill was unanimously passed by the Florida House earlier this month.
“We are fixing a legal loophole that has allowed at least one child predator to avoid registration. Despite a history of preying on young kids, this man was able to live freely and interact with unsuspecting children in person and online,” said Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and ardent supporter of victims’ rights. “When Governor DeSantis signs this bipartisan bill into law, Florida’s children and communities will be safer.”
Two courts have ruled that due to a technicality in Florida sex offender law, a Tampa man who served prison time for molesting two young girls does not have to register as a sex offender until he pays a fine imposed as part of his sentence – a loophole which Book’s bill fixes.
Ray La Vel James of Tampa was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine for molesting two young girls – ages 8 and 11 – at a community swimming pool. According to the Tampa Bay Times, James had a reputation for hanging around children, bringing toys to the pool, and inviting young girls to play with him.
“This man is the very definition of someone who should and must be on the sex offender registry and subject to things like community monitoring, and residency restrictions,” Book said in committee.“But because of this legal loophole, he could live right next to a community pool if he so chose. Or a school – or a daycare. He could be chatting with children online and we would have no idea, because he is living his life freely, despite a history of preying on young kids.”
Book’s bill amends what has been widely recognized as a dangerous oversight conflicting with the spirit of the law. The measure is supported by state Attorney General Ashley Moody, State Attorneys, the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, and others.
Book is the chairwoman of the state Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee and the next leader of her caucus in the state Senate.