When Tampa’s City Council explained its plan to ban all sex offenders from residing within Tampa’s city limits to city attorney David Smith, Smith said the new law was a bad idea because of constitutional issues. In response, according to the St. Petersburg Times, Smith proposed an even worse idea: Let sex offenders near “libraries, school bus stops, parks, day care centers, playgrounds and schools,” but keep sexual predators away.
So instead of passing a sex offender ordinance that’s unconstitutional, the Tampa City Council is apparently going to pass one that’s just plain stupid.
The first glaring problem with Smith’s idea is that there isn’t enough of a difference between sex offenders and sexual predators to let either group near schools. The difference, per the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is that sexual predators have been “convicted of either one first-degree felony sex crime, or two second degree felony sex crimes.” Furthermore, “sexual predator designation only applies to sex offenses committed on or after Oct. 1, 1993.”
Sexual offenders, on the other hand, are those “convicted of committing, attempting, soliciting or conspiring to commit” any of a list of sexual offenses, or those who were “released on or after Oct. 1, 1997 from the sanction imposed for any conviction.”
The convictions that define sex offenders aren’t exactly pleasant. A person can lure or entice a child, kidnap a child under the age of 13, commit sexual battery, sell obscene material to a minor and even procure a person under the age of 18 for the purposes of prostitution. Provided the offender only got caught for any of those offenses once and was released on or after Oct. 1, 1997 for it, they are only a sex offender – not a sexual predator.
Few Floridians would be happy having a person near their child’s playground that had procured a child under the age of 18 for the purposes of prostitution at any point, regardless of how many times they were caught for it.
The other problem with Tampa’s proposed ordinance is no less important: It is contrary to a bill currently being considered in the state Legislature that seeks to define where sex offenders and predators can be, as opposed to where they can live. Under the state bill, it would become a first-degree misdemeanor for some sex offenders to be within 300 feet of places where children gather – but under the proposed city ordinance, an offender’s presence in the same spot wouldn’t even be illegal.
It’s sad that the Tampa City Council would risk unconstitutional ordinances and conflict with state law to solve a problem that only incarceration can correct. It’s sadder, however, that the Council would risk the lives and innocence of children merely because of the semantic differences between an “offender” and a “predator.”