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Lunsford Act's net catching too many

Published March 25, 2007


MIAMI - Fred Gray thought it was a mistake when he was told he didn't have clearance to work at schools. A background check had flagged the telephone company employee under a 2005 law aimed at protecting children from sex offenders.

His crime: hunting wild hogs out of season in 1971, a case that had been dismissed.

Gray says his arrest - and the barbecue he had hoped to have - had been a joke for decades. But the incident had him losing sleep recently, he said. Clearing it up with the Orange County School Board took months, and he worried about losing his job.

Gray's case is one of the most bizarre cited by communications workers who have been vocal in arguing the Jessica Lunsford Act needs to be refined and vague wording clarified so it doesn't affect people whose backgrounds include long-ago minor crimes that had nothing to do with children.

Legislators this year are discussing amending the act. Similar bills proposed last year won overwhelming support, but lawmakers ran out of time in the regular session to reconcile House and Senate versions.

When it was passed two years ago, lawmakers touted the act as a way to toughen laws against sex offenders, and about 30 states now have similar laws. But wording in the law created headaches for some school contractors in Florida, ranging from companies that repair air conditioners to those that stock vending machines.

The act is named for 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, whose killer, John Couey was convicted of murder this month.

The law, in part, bars people convicted of a crime of "moral turpitude" from school grounds when students are present. The problem, legislators and workers agree, is that the definition of "moral turpitude" is up to school boards.

[Last modified March 25, 2007, 00:56:32]

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