FL plan to extend prison terms for online predators on fast track

Bill would greatly increase funding for online predator investigations, increase prison terms by counting each conversation with child as a separate offense.

A plan by Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum to toughen prison penalties for sexual predators who use the Internet is speeding through the Florida Legislature, says the Tallahassee Democrat.

McCollum's plan calls for adding 50 investigators, prosecutors and support staff to the Office of Statewide Prosecution. It was approved by a Senate budget committee and a key House panel has starting considering it. It's likely to pass in the early weeks of the 2007 session and to by signed by the governor.

"This bill attempts to put these dirtbags in jail for a longer time," said Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, sponsor of the Senate bill (SB 1004) that cleared the Justice Appropriations Committee. "I'm sure many of you have seen the dangers to our children on the Internet when you have these sick and perverted people out there who'd want to have sexual relations with children."

The measure increases prison terms by counting each conversation with a child as a separate offense.

Maureen Horkan, who heads McCollum's office in Jacksonville targeting online predators, said that in one case, a man with seven prior offenses in New York attempted to meet a child in several conversations over the Internet and drove to a supposed meeting with a hunting knife in his car. But she said she could only get him five years because under current Florida law, all of his actions were one offense.

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