A bill that calls for harsher punishments for Florida teachers who molest or have sex with students is headed to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.
The ennhanced criminal penalties would apply to authority figures — teachers, coaches, counselors and school volunteers — who sexually victimize students.
“This bill sends a strong signal to teachers that you don’t need to be messing with students,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said.
Senators unanimously approved HB 485 and the House passed it 107-8 last week.
It would bump penalties up a notch. For example, a lewd and lascivious battery, now a second-degree felony carrying a 15-year prison sentence, would be upgraded to a first-degree felony punishable by 30 years in prison.
A molestation charge classified as a third-degree felony with a five-year prison sentence would become a second-degree felony with a 15-year maximum sentence.
The proposed legislation was prompted by a group of students participating in the "It Ought to be a Law" program at Armwood High School in Hillsborough County.
Under current state law, there are no specific sanctions when the perpetrator is a teacher and the victim is a student, House sponsor Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, said.
The student would have to be younger than 18 and the authority older than 18 for the enhanced penalties to apply.
Since 2010 more than a dozen Broward and Palm Beach county teachers have either been arrested for allegedly having sex with students, or been sentenced to terms ranging from two years of house arrest to 15 years in prison.
And just last June, the Seminole County School Board fired a Lyman High math teacher accused of having sex with two female students, 15 and 17. That same month, a Winter Park High School coach was arrested on charges of lewd and lascivious molestation of a girl younger than 16.