tampabay.com

Tampa's sex predator law even stricter

Similar to Hillsborough's version, the law also includes "offenders" and rental regulations.

By MICHAEL VAN SICKLER
Published March 23, 2007


TAMPA - A day after Hillsborough County commissioners passed a law banning sexual predators from areas where children are likely to gather, the Tampa City Council passed its own, tougher version.

"We've got to start somewhere," said council member Mary Alvarez on Thursday. Sex offenders are "all over the place. They're like ants."

Like the county, council members voted to prohibit sexual predators from lingering within 300 feet of places like schools, video arcades, bus stops, public libraries and parks, and "other similar places where children congregate."

But the city also voted to prohibit sexual "offenders," a group of criminals that the city legal staff determined can be just as dangerous and more common. There are 450 offenders compared to 50 predators in Tampa.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement labels sex offenders as "predators" if they committed their crime after Sept. 30, 1993, and were convicted of either a first-degree felony or two second-degree felonies.

The city also beefed up its version by prohibiting landlords from renting to a sexual offender or predator. However, if the landlord can show he did a reasonable check that should have revealed an offender, he won't be in violation.

The government affairs director for Bay Area Apartment Association said he didn't know the city added that requirement for landlords, but he said his group wouldn't oppose it.

"As long as the city accepts the industry's backgrounding procedures, we don't have a problem with it," said Jeff Rogo, whose group represents more than 82,000 apartment units.

The city did add a "Romeo and Juliet" clause in the new law, which exempts sexual offenders who were minors with victims older than 13.

Judy Cornett, a mother of a victim, applauded the new law, but said whether it works will depend on its enforcement.

"If we can't enforce it, why have it?" she said.

Violating the ordinance could result in a $500 fine or six months in jail.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3402 or mvansickler@sptimes.com.