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  • New laws ease life for crime victims
  • Bush supports phone rate bill in part, he says

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    New laws ease life for crime victims

    The governor signs bills meant to aid victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and other crimes.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 23, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Lobbyist Ronnie Book does a lot of work for well-heeled clients, but rarely so emotional as the issue that had him standing beside Gov. Jeb Bush Monday as he signed a series of bills designed to help crime victims.

    Book helped lobby for a bill on behalf of his 17-year-old daughter, Lauren, who was sexually assaulted by a trusted housekeeper and then frustrated in her attempts to find out if her assailant was HIV positive.

    One bill Bush signed into law, with Book and his daughter watching, gives the victims of sex crimes the right to know whether their assailant has HIV.

    Near tears as he talked, Book said he grew frustrated with the criminal justice system when he discovered how hard it was to get such vital information.

    "My daughter, to this day, does not have the results of the HIV test," he said.

    The former housekeeper, accused of assaulting Book's daughter when she was between ages 12 and 14, is in jail awaiting trial in Broward County. The family learned of the assaults in August.

    Unlike most sexual assault victims, who remain anonymous, Lauren Book went public so she could change the law.

    Book is a savvy Miami-Dade lawyer and lobbyist who spends his time racing through legislative halls in pursuit of tax breaks or other deals for clients that include millionaire H. Wayne Huizenga and many of the state's biggest businesses.

    With a little help from her father in the closing days of the legislative session, Lauren got 88 co-sponsors of the measure.

    Under the new law, a victim who is a minor, disabled adult or elderly person can seek testing of the assailant and get the results within two weeks. The results of such tests now are available only to the accused unless a court orders otherwise. The law takes effect July 1 and Book plans to use it to get the information his daughter wants.

    The governor praised the bill and others designed to make life easier for the victims of crime.

    One makes it easier for victims of domestic violence to seek protective orders. Beginning Oct. 1, victims will no longer be required to pay a filing fee of up to $50 to get the judicial protection they need.

    "When a woman flees from an abusive home, she typically has little resources and has to provide for her children," Bush said. "The elimination of this fee will ensure battered women never have to choose between feeding their children and getting judicial protection from perpetrators of violence."

    Another new law requires judges to inform victims of their rights to appear, be notified, seek restitution and make a statement about the process.

    The governor also signed into law a measure that will speed up state review of sexual predators eligible for civil commitment under the Jimmy Ryce Act. The state now must wait until an offender is about to be released to determine whether the inmate should be committed for treatment.

    Another measure Bush signed will crack down on companies that trap desperate people into high-priced mortgage loans through deception and pressure.

    The bill (SB 2262) satisfied the financial industry but not consumer groups, which had lobbied for a much different proposal to combat predatory mortgage lending.

    The AARP and other consumer groups contend that the new law won't target enough loans or prevent high-pressure tactics. It also will prevent local governments from passing stricter laws.

    The Legislature, following the lead of other states, passed the bill last month to target this type of lending, which costs Floridians millions of dollars in fees and high interest rates each year.

    -- Times staff writer Anita Kumar contributed to this report.

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    From the Times state desk