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Teen sex, abuse of elderly laws to take effect

Published Sep. 30, 1996|Updated Sep. 16, 2005

Adults who have sex with girls younger than 18, even if the youngsters consent, face prison time starting Tuesday under new get-tough laws designed to reduce teenage pregnancies in Florida.

One law makes it a felony for a man 21 or older to get a girl younger than 16 pregnant, whether she consents or not. A first offense can mean up to 15 months in prison.

Another statute makes it a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, for anyone age 24 or older to have sexual intercourse or oral sex with anyone 16 or 17 years old.

Lawmakers acted after child advocates, such as Virginia Foy of Jensen Beach, cited studies showing that 77 percent of pregnancies among high school age or younger girls result from sex with adult men.

"Whatever happened to the commonly held view of jailbait?" Foy asked. "It was needed. It worked. There was a hands-off thing."

In addition to attacking sexual predators, new laws taking effect Tuesday deal with safe boating, and protecting elderly people confined under the Baker Act and terminally ill people who sell life insurance policies for cash settlements. Other measures trim bureaucratic rules, make abuse that causes the death of an elderly or disabled person a capital crime and make it a crime to sexually abuse or mutilate a corpse.

Seventy-six laws will take effect, a fraction of the 552 that the 1996 Legislature passed and Gov. Lawton Chiles signed or let become law without his signature.

Many bills will become effective July 1, the start of the state's fiscal year. Others will kick in Tuesday, when the federal budget year begins, or Jan. 1 with the start of the calendar year. Still others begin on a variety of dates for various reasons.

The teen sex laws are in addition to Florida's current statutory rape law, which forbids anyone older than 21 to have sex with a girl younger than 16, but does not always apply if the girl says she consented.

Under the new laws, the teen's consent, the teen's sexual history or a mistake about the teen's age, will be no defense. And if the teen has a child, the adult must pay child support.

Rep. Tom Warner, R-Stuart, sponsor of one bill, cited a growing number of girls 13 to 15 years old becoming pregnant by men in their 20s and 30s who consider it a "badge of honor."

Adult men pursue middle-school and high-school girls for two reasons: They are "clean" and they are "easy," say those who deal with pregnant teenagers.

At least 80 percent of the teenagers coming to the Indiantown Teen Parent Center are pregnant as a result of sex with men older than 21. Often, the fathers are in their 30s, said Miriam Wheeler, who runs the center for the Martin County School District.

"The reason it has increased is the fact that there are so many sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS, not to mention all the others," she said.

"Men have bragged about the fact that these girls are, quote, clean, and they don't have to worry about it," Wheeler said. "They are protecting themselves."

"Besides being a social problem, it's also a financial problem," she said. "Teen parenting is costing us all.

"These 13- and 14- and 15-year-old girls of course are completely unable to support themselves or the baby, so we have two dependent people who suddenly need be taken care of, who are just children."

Boating safety got headlines during the session when Miami singer Gloria Estefan traveled to the Capitol to lobby for tougher laws. Florida led the nation last year with 1,337 boating accidents and 78 deaths.

Estefan got involved after a tourist died when his personal watercraft smashed into her yacht.

The new law requires safety training for anyone 16 or younger to operate a boat with a motor of 10 horsepower or more. The age will increase by one year each year until the requirement covers all operators 21 or younger.

Sex with corpses also became an issue last session, to the amazement of lawmakers like Sen. Charlie Crist, R-St. Petersburg, who said, "I can't believe this isn't already against the law."

Leon County law enforcement officials had discovered they couldn't charge a murder defendant with raping his victim's corpse. The case involved the June 1995 murder of Kathryn Moore. Her 18-year-old son, Aaron Moore, and his 22-year-old friend, David Baity, have been sentenced to life in prison in the slaying.

Baity admitted he sexually assaulted the body before he threw it down an abandoned well shaft, but authorities couldn't bring additional charges. Now it will be a felony to mutilate or sexually abuse a dead human body.

New Florida laws

These Florida laws will take effect Tuesday:

TEEN PREGNANCY: Anyone over 21 who impregnates a child under 16 faces a mandatory prison sentence. The offender can be convicted of child abuse, and a first offense can land him in prison for 15 months. The teenager's consent or sexual history is not a defense.

SEXUAL OFFENSES INVOLVING MINORS: Anyone 24 or older having sexual intercourse or oral sex with anyone 16 or 17 faces a third-degree felony charge. Conviction can mean up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The teenager's consent, sexual history,or a mistake about the teen's age is no defense.

ABUSE OF THE ELDERLY: Increases penalties for abuse or neglect of elderly or disabled persons; makes abuse resulting in death a capital offense.

BOATING SAFETY: Anyone 16 or under must complete a boater education course or pass an equivalency exam and have an identification card showing completion to operate a vessel powered by a motor of 10 horsepower or more. The age will increase by one year each year until 2001, when the requirement will apply to anyone 21 or younger.

VIATICAL SETTLEMENTS: Regulates "viatical" transactions in which terminally ill persons sell life insurance policies for cash settlements. Brokers must be licensed and required to make disclosures about proceeds of the settlement, such as that they may be subject to claims by creditors.

MATERNITY HOSPITAL STAYS: Individual or group health insurance policies and HMO contracts must include coverage for a mother and newborn child in the hospital for any length of time determined to be medically necessary.

BAKER ACT REVISION: Strengthens protection against inappropriate commitment of elderly persons to psychiatric hospitals. Facilities must permit immediate access to any patient by family members and others, subject to the patient's right to refuse access. Communication or visitation may not be restricted as a punishment, and restrictions must be reviewed every seven days.

HEALTHY CHILDREN: Expands the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. beyond the original 10 pilot counties.

SPANKING: Corporal punishment by a parent is not child abuse when it does not result in physical or mental injury, but may be considered excessive when it is likely to injure the child. Factors include the age of the child, any prior history of injuries, and the location and type of injury.

VEHICLE BUY BACKS: Titles of vehicles bought back by manufacturers under the "Lemon Law" because the manufacturer cannot make them conform to the vehicle warranty must be stamped "Manufacturer's Buy Back."

CONSTRUCTION SITE SPEEDING: Fines will be doubled for speeders in construction zones. A motorist driving 70 mph in a construction zone posted for 55 mph will face a $250 fine, plus court costs. If the violation causes property damage or injury to a pedestrian, an additional fine of $250 may be added.

AIDS EDUCATION: Requires offenders on probation or community control to attend AIDS awareness programs.

JUVENILE VEHICLE THEFT: Requires criminal charges against juveniles alleged to be involved in a vehicle theft that results in injury or death.

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS: Abolishes statute of limitations for prosecuting felonies that result in death, such as vehicular homicide, manslaughter, DUI manslaughter, vessel homicide, second-degree murder and third-degree felony murder.

ASSAULT AND BATTERY: Boosts penalties for assault and battery against emergency medical workers, college security officers, school or college officials and employees, and Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services workers and investigators.

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