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Death penalty in child rape convictions to take effect with other new 2023 measures

 A traditional hanky-drop ceremony was held May 5 to mark the end of the 2023 legislative session.
News Service of Florida
File photo
A traditional hanky-drop ceremony was held May 5 to mark the end of the 2023 legislative session.

A new law that could lead to imposing the death penalty on people who rape children under age 12 will take effect Sunday, along with other laws passed during the 2023 legislative session.

Other measures taking effect could lead to putting local governments on the hook for attorney fees when ordinances are deemed “arbitrary or unreasonable;” increase penalties on fans who interfere with sporting events; and require teens to at least have learner’s permits to drive golf carts on public roads.

The laws passed during the legislative session that ended May 5. Most legislation, including a record $117 billion state budget, went into effect on July 1, the start of the fiscal year.

The most controversial of the laws taking effect Sunday would allow the death penalty for people who commit sexual batteries on children under age 12. The measure (HB 1297) likely will draw legal challenges, as U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court precedents have barred death sentences for rapists.

READ MORE: Here are 10 big issues passed during the Florida legislative session

During a May 1 bill-signing event in Brevard County, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the measure is “for the protection of children.”

“Unfortunately, in our society, we have very heinous sex crimes that are committed against children under the age of 12 years old,” DeSantis said. “These are really the worst of the worst. The perpetrators of these crimes are often serial offenders.”

Judges would have discretion to impose the death penalty or sentence defendants to life in prison. If fewer than eight jurors recommend death, judges would have to impose life sentences.

The bill would affect what is known as the sentencing phase of cases. Juries would still need to unanimously find defendants guilty of the crimes before the sentencing phase would begin.

The measure was approved 34-5 in the Senate and 95-14 in the House.

In voting against the measure in April, Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the bill presented her with a “quandary.”

“I love kids, and I’ll do anything to protect them,” Osgood said. “But I struggle from a faith perspective. If I believe in my faith that God can redeem and save anybody, then how do I support someone getting the death penalty? And I’m just talking about me. That’s my struggle. That’s my challenge.”

Other laws that will take effect Sunday include:

  • SB 170, which could boost legal challenges to local ordinances. In part, the law requires local governments to suspend enforcement of ordinances while lawsuits play out and makes plaintiffs eligible for up to $50,000 in attorney fees if a court finds ordinances are “arbitrary or unreasonable.”
  • HB 319, which sets a maximum fine of $2,500 for interfering with participants in athletic or artistic events or going onto fields or stages without authorization. Also, in the age of social media, the law prohibits people from making money off such exploits.
  • HB 431, which makes it a third-degree felony for a person age 24 and older to solicit a 16- or 17-year-old in writing to commit a lewd or lascivious act.
  • HB 949, which requires a learner’s permit or driver’s license for anyone under age 18 to operate a golf cart on a public road. Currently, golf-cart operators must be at least 14 years old when on public roads designated for golf-cart use, but driver’s licenses are not required.
  • HB 1359, which increases penalties for fentanyl dealers and manufacturers. That includes imposing mandatory minimum 25-year sentences and $1 million fines for adults selling at least four grams of fentanyl to minors through such things as products that resemble candy.
  • HB 1465, which includes boosting potential sentences for people who possess or discharge guns while involved in human trafficking. Such people will be subject to the state’s “10-20-Life” mandatory-minimum sentencing law.
  • HB 1367, which expands a litter law to prohibit dumping litter at water-control district properties or canal rights-of-ways unless given approval.

Copyright 2023 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

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