State senators proposed reforms Wednesday to how developmentally disabled sex offenders are housed and want a task force of experts to recommend new guidelines for sex in group homes.
The changes are part of Senate Bill 2062, proposed by the Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs on Wednesday. They grow out of issues reported at a Seffner group home for developmentally disabled men where residents, including sex offenders, were permitted to have sex with one another even though some men lacked the ability to consent.
"Many issues have been brought to light through these shocking events," said Sen. Ronda Storms, who chairs the committee, "and I strongly believe it is the state's obligation … to ensure better environments."
According to a St. Petersburg Times story, staffers at the Human Development Center group home viewed sex between peers as part of a therapeutic program. A state disabilities official told senators last month that the group home matched up sexual partners.
Reports also documented one encounter in 2005 that the staff characterized as rape. But that case did not cause the home to curtail a program the men knew as "quiet time," during which sanctioned sexual contact occurred.
In 2008, Storms, R-Valrico, called for an investigation that stopped "quiet time" and state officials promised to tackle the issue of sexual activity in group homes. After a Times story in December revealed that the pledge and other changes hadn't been implemented, Storms convened Senate hearings last month to address the lingering issues.
One resident, upset about sexual activity in the group home, for instance, had been trying to move to another group home, but a judge's order kept him tied to the Human Development Center for years. The proposed bill would give the Agency for Persons with Disabilities more freedom to move these clients by barring judges from sending sex offenders to a particular home.
The bill would also give developmentally disabled sex offenders and their guardians more choices on where to live by making the agency create or license more group homes. Now, just a handful of state-licensed group homes, including the Human Development Center, accept men accused of sex crimes.
"Guardians of developmentally disabled deserve a choice in placement, even those who are sexual offenders," Storms said. "In some cases, there is only one provider in the entire state … and that … should not be allowed."
The bill also calls for a task force that would include officials from the state agency, Department of Children and Families, courts, prosecutors, public defenders, university experts and disabled advocacy groups to draw up policies to address sexual activity in group homes. The task force would present a report by Nov. 1.
Jim DeBeaugrine, a former director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, supported the bill.
"Most people with developmental disabilities are adults with full civil rights, and they do have the right to engage in lawful sexual activity. So it is a real tricky subject and one that's uncomfortable for a lot of people," he said.
The Agency for Persons with Disabilities declined to comment because it was analyzing the bill.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.