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Chemical castration for rapists gets committee okay

Rapists may face a tough new sentence the next time they stand before a judge:

Chemical castration for life.

In a day of get-tough action, a Senate crime committee approved a bill Tuesday that would allow chemical castration for any rapist and require it for repeat offenders.

Similar measures have failed in the past, but lawmakers are confident of passage this year. A House committee already has approved the bill.

"These men walk out of jail seeking their next victim," said Rene Bray, an Orlando mother who discovered her child's rapist working at a playground three weeks after his release from prison.

Department of Corrections officials estimate that it would cost at least $50-million over the next 20 years to give repeat offenders Depo-Provera, a female hormone that decreases sex drive in men. That doesn't include first-time offenders who might be ordered to take the weekly injections. The treatment would cost about $70,000 per person over 20 years.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, said numerous studies have shown that chemical castration reduces the chance that sex offenders will rape again.

But representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union objected to the measure, threatening to tie up in court any mandatory chemical castration laws.

Even senators who voted for the bill had questions about the legality of requiring castration.

"The problem is . . . constitutionally you could have cruel and unusual punishment," said Sen. Skip Campbell, a Tamarac Democrat and lawyer who voted for the measure.

The crime committee also approved legislation that would dramatically expand laws requiring law enforcement officials to tell the public about released prisoners.

Authorities already must alert the public about criminals that courts have declared sexual predators. But two new bills would require authorities to notify the public about anyone convicted of a sexual offense or a violent crime.

One bill would mandate the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to set up a toll-free number to provide information about sex offenders.

Another bill would require law enforcement authorities to post notice of the location of prisoners with violent records, including murder, manslaughter, aggravated battery and child abuse.