TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With the father of a slain 9-year-old looking on, Gov. Jeb Bush (search) signed legislation Monday that strengthens punishment and monitoring of child sex abusers.
The Jessica Lunsford Act (search) requires those who prey on children under 12 to be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison and, if they get out, to be tracked for life.
The bill was quickly drafted after March, and sped through the legislative process, pushed by outraged lawmakers.
Bush said Florida's sex offender laws are already tough, and "this bill will make our laws even tougher. It think it is right and just."
Bush hugged Mark Lunsford (search) after signing the bill, telling him he was proud of his leadership in pushing for the measure so soon after his daughter's death.
Lunsford, wearing a tie with pictures of his daughter, said he has been working so furiously to channel his anger into the legislation he hasn't yet really grieved.
"I'm still lost, I haven't really dealt with it yet," Lunsford said after Bush signed the bill. He called the tie his "hug" from Jessica. "I'm still minus my kiss, but that's my hug."
Lunsford has been at the Capitol often in the last month urging legislators to crack down on predators.
It passed both the Senate and House unanimously and was sent to Bush on April 22, just over a month after the girl's body was found March 19. She had vanished from her home in Homosassa the previous month.
John E. Couey, a convicted sex offender who was living near Jessica, is charged with her kidnapping her from her bedroom and murdering her. Detectives say he confessed.
The Legislature passed the bill days after another sex offender was charged in the abduction and murder of 13-year-old Sarah Lunde (search) of Ruskin. David Onstott allegedly told police he choked Sarah and dumped her body in a pond on April 10. Onstott was convicted of a sex crime in 1995.
The bill would require 25-year minimum prison terms for people convicted of certain sex crimes against children and lifetime tracking by global positioning satellite once they're outside of prison.
The bill also requires more monitoring of people convicted of molesting older children.
The new requirement only affects people convicted in the future, but it also has a provision that provides for GPS tracking of sex offenders who violate probation.
Advocates for the satellite monitoring say that in addition to warning authorities when a sex offender is someplace he shouldn't be — such as near a school — it also will allow for quick pinpointing of suspects if a child is abducted.
The new law also could open the door to the death penalty for more murderers, saying someone's status as sexual predator can be considered as an aggravating when judges and juries weigh capital punishment.