Florida Law and Order Bills Signed Into Law as of April 2024

Florida Law and Order Bills Signed Into Law

By: Brian T. Coughlin

Florida is set to implement significant legal changes with new law and order bills from the 2024 legislative session. Below are notable changes recently signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis. 

Raising Penalties for Retail Theft and Porch Piracy

HB 549 increases penalties for retail theft, porch piracy, and inciting looting via social media. The commission of retail theft with five or more individuals is now a third-degree felony. The offense becomes a second-degree felony if the group uses social media to solicit others to participate in the theft, and a first-degree felony if the retail theft is committed with a firearm or with two or more prior convictions of retail theft.

To address porch piracy, theft of property valued at $40 or more is now a third-degree felony (less than $40 is a first-degree misdemeanor). The previous threshold was $100. This law goes into effect on October 1.

Protecting Children from Predatory Grooming and Other Sexual Offenses

Gov. DeSantis signed five pieces of legislation tied to criminal punishments for abusing children through grooming or other sexual offenses. These include:

HB 1545 – Child Exploitation Offenses

HB 1545 creates the criminal offense of harmful communication to a minor, prohibiting explicit and detailed verbal descriptions of sexual activity. It also increases penalties for child exploitation crimes making the conduct a third-degree felony.

HB 1131 – Online Sting Operations Grant Program

The Online Sting Operations Grant Program within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement allocates funding to be used on computers, electronics, software, and other digital assets to conduct online child predator sting operations.

HB 1235 – Sexual Predators and Sexual Offenders

This bill establishes stricter guidelines for sexual offender registration. It prevents sex offenders from using a temporary residence to avoid registration and requires international travel to be reported ahead of time, among other requirements.

SB 1224 – Protection of Children and Victims of Crime

This bill aims to strengthen the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office and help law enforcement better assess incidents of domestic violence. It creates a new role within the Guardian ad Litem Office and establishes a grant program to assist children aging out of foster care. 

It also creates a statewide domestic violence assessment. This requires law enforcement officers to determine if a domestic violence victim is at risk of death or serious injury and respond appropriately.

HB 305 – Offenses Involving Children

HB 305 makes changes to existing laws pertaining to offenses involving children. This includes requiring offenders convicted of human trafficking minors to be registered sex offenders on the first offense. It also allows a hearsay statement made by a minor, regardless of age, to be admitted as evidence. 

Social Media Account Ban for Children

HB 3, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2025, prohibits children under the age of 14 from becoming social media account holders. It allows 14- and 15-year-olds to become account holders with parental consent. It also requires pornographic or sexually explicit websites to use age verification to prevent minors from accessing sites that are inappropriate for children.

Addressing Homelessness

Under HB 1365, Florida’s approach to homelessness now prohibits homeless individuals from camping on city streets, sidewalks, and parks. Instead, they will be placed in state-inspected shelters that offer substance abuse and mental health counseling services. These homeless shelters will require occupants to not use drugs.

Enhancing Protections for Law Enforcement Officers and First Responders

Two new bills Gov. DeSantis signed into law, SB 184 and HB 601, are intended to help protect Florida’s law enforcement officers and first responders. SB 184 prohibits the harassment of a police officer or first responder who is actively doing his or her job, after receiving a warning to not approach. It also increases the distance a person has to stay back from 14 to 25 feet. The penalty for violating is a second-degree misdemeanor. 

Under HB 601, “Civilian Oversight Boards” may be created if they are directed by a county sheriff or chief of police and are comprised of members who are appointed by the sheriff or chief of police — and at least one member must be a retired law enforcement officer.

About Brian T. Coughlin

Brian Coughlin is a director at Bedell. He is a former chairperson of The Florida Bar Professional Ethics Committee and a current member of the Board of Governors of the Jacksonville Bar Association. His practice focuses on matters of criminal justice. He is ranked by his peers at the highest level of professional excellence for legal knowledge, communication skills, and ethical standards.

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