Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed several bills into law Wednesday that intend to crack down on the ability of sexual predators to “groom” children, or lure potential victims, over the internet. The bills also increase the ability of law enforcement agencies to combat and penalize these predators and child molesters.

“In Florida, we stand for the wellbeing and innocence of our children,” DeSantis said at the Urban StillHouse in St. Petersburg, just after 10:45 a.m. He said the five pieces of legislation that he signed shortly after his remarks — HB 1131, HB 1235, HB 1545, HB 305 and SB 1224 — were designed “to ensure those who do children harm are held accountable.”

“We have to step in, and we have to protect them,” the governor added.

The bills are intended to prohibit adults from engaging in patterns of communication with a minor, increase penalties for child exportation, make punishments more severe for predators and tighten the restrictions for those in the sexual predator registry.

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DeSantis, who spoke alongside Florida Department of High Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Dave Kerner and several state lawmakers, spoke in front of a podium that read, “Protecting Children,” in all caps.

During his remarks, the Florida governor complimented the lawmakers but said there was “always more to do.”

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“The rise of the internet and social media and all these different apps has become a playground for predators,” DeSantis said. “We want kids to just be kids.”

DeSantis, USA and Florida flags

He also called the internet a “major, major cesspool” for those seeking to harm children.

The legislation the governor signed includes:

  • HB 1131 – creates online sting operations to protect children and a grant program within Florida’s law enforcement to facilitate these operations.
  • HB 1235 – creates stricter guidelines for sexual offender registration, such as ending loopholes where offenders stay in an area but are registered in another.
  • SB 1224 – strengthens and implements training for law enforcement for domestic violence situations, such as requiring the court to appoint a guardian ad litem for a child at the earliest possible time. The bill also creates a lethality assessment to determine if a victim has a higher risk of suffering violence.
  • HB 305 – expands evidence that can be brought in child sex abuse cases, such as allowing the out-of-court statements child victims make to be admissible in certain circumstances.
  • HB 1545 — Increases child exploitation offenses; creates the offense of harmful communication to a minor and adds enforceability against those who talk with minors about sexual conduct.

DeSantis, who ran for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination before suspending his campaign, was joined by other state senators and state reps. He was also joined by Joseph Petito, Vice President of the Gabby Petitio Foundation, the organization he credited with helping get the bills passed.

DeSantis signing legislation

Director Kerner followed DeSantis’ remarks, calling the legislation “very commonsense to our criminal code.”

“It’s not fair to just call them perverts. They are the manifestation of evil,” he added.

State Sen. Jake Collins, an Army Green Beret, applauded DeSantis for the “courage, candor, and commitment” he was showing in his effort to protect children.

“It’s the commitment and the accountability where Florida shines,” Collins said. “Thank you for leading the way here in Florida.”

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