EXCLUSIVE: Florida Passes Law Criminalizing Child Grooming Thanks to Activist’s Initiative

In Florida, while there were laws addressing child sex crimes under the state criminal code, including offenses related to sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, and electronic communication, there was a gap regarding the explicit criminalization of “child grooming.”

This means that if an adult attempted to initiate a sexual relationship with a child without using electronic communication and without the intention of exploitation or profit, law enforcement would not have legal grounds to make an arrest.

So, someone had to start a bill for legislators to make a change.

“Folks, enough is enough. We got to call this what it is. Enough about feelings and emotions. We got to get back to principles and standards. This is about bad people with one intent, and it is to exploit and use that child .” Bill sponsor FL Rep. Taylor Yarkosky said, after one Florida woman jumped in to get started.

Here is how it all started with one Mom, and here are her motivations to dig in:

“We had laws to protect adults abusing adults and protecting them in the workplace, but we didn’t have laws to protect children from adults, and I thought that was wrong,” Ali Hopper, a t Paralegal, told Frontline America about why she started the process to change Florida law.

She added, “We needed something about grooming in the criminal code. People’s jaws dropped when I explained to them that we didn’t have anything of the type in Florida.”

Hopper explained that what she was focused on was targeting the behavior of an abuser prior to getting a child into their home for sexual activity. She was focused on inappropriate conduct that is considered “grooming.”

Now, that has all changed in Florida due to one woman, Hopper, who started out to change a problem she saw only at the time.

With her help, a bill was passed into law on March 7, awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis’s signature.

“This landmark legislation sends a clear message: Florida citizens stand united in our commitment to protecting children from exploitation and ensuring a safer environment for future generations,” Hopper said in reaction to the passage of the bill she helped form.

Hopper told Frontline America that due to the politicization of the word “grooming,” legislators pushed back on the actual word in the bill; however, as she points out, some states like Illinois have laws with the word “Grooming” in the offense.

However, she isn’t interested in the Florida bill, which includes the word “grooming,” as long as children are better protected.

Hopper is now assisting people in other states, teaching them to evaluate their state laws and how to petition the government if they find the same gaps in the law that she saw. She is also an expert on navigating legislative bodies like the Florida General Assembly; below is the road map to how she changed the system.

She talked to Frontline America about how her original pitch became law and how it will now protect American children and families from tragedy.

This bill establishes a new crime in the FL criminal code and related penalties regarding any adult who engages in a pattern of communication to a minor that includes explicit sexual communication or conduct that is harmful to minors and commits a felony in the 3rd degree.

Prior to this, FL law was limited in what they could do to address any harm towards a child prior to the luring/enticing/solicitation of a minor, and this legislation addresses that gap.

Here is Hopper’s brilliant pitch:

After the impressive pitch, the staff then provided a comprehensive analysis of the proposed legislation, explicitly addressing the issue of lewd or lascivious grooming of minors in Florida. Here’s a summary of their key points:

  1. Background on Grooming: The analysis begins by explaining sexual grooming, a preparatory process wherein a perpetrator selects, isolates, and desensitizes a victim to sexual content and physical contact, often leading to future abuse.
  2. Current Legal Framework: It outlines existing laws related to lewd or lascivious offenses in Florida, such as lewd or lascivious battery, molestation, conduct, and exhibition, along with penalties for these offenses based on the age of the offender and victim.
  3. Proposed Legislation (CS/HB 1135): The bill aims to address gaps in existing laws by criminalizing lewd or lascivious grooming. It defines terms like inappropriate communication or conduct, sexual activity, sexual conduct, and sexual performance. The proposed law prohibits individuals 18 or older from engaging in inappropriate communication or conduct directed at a person under 16, intending to prepare, encourage, or entice them into unlawful sexual activity, conduct, or performance. Violation of this prohibition constitutes a third-degree felony.
  4. Fiscal Impact: The analysis suggests an indeterminate positive impact on jail and prison beds due to the creation of a new felony offense, potentially leading to increased admissions.
  5. Constitutional Considerations: The bill may implicate the First Amendment, but the state’s compelling interest in protecting minors from sexual exploitation justifies restrictions on certain types of speech.
  6. Amendments/Committee Changes: Details amendments made to the bill, including clarifications and adjustments to penalties and definitions.

Hopper provided the Grooming Bill History

9/18/23 Tallahassee Trip

1/3/24 Date Filed

House Committee Referrals:

Criminal Justice Subcommittee

Justice Appropriations Subcommittee

Judiciary Committee

Senate Committee Referrals:

Criminal Justice Committee

Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice

Fiscal Policy Committee

DateH/SHearingCommittee TimeVote
1/19HouseCriminal Justice Subcommittee01:09:10-01:36:4015-2
1/29HouseJustice Appropriations Subcommittee00:01:33-00:35:3013-0 (2 NP)
1/30SenateCriminal Justice Committee01:48:15-02:32:086-2
2/21HouseJudiciary Committee03:04:20-03:38:2021-0
N/ASenateAppropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil JusticeN/A (bill merged with SB1656)N/A
2/27SenateFiscal Policy Committee00:36:40-00:47:2820-0
3/5SenateSenate Floor02:28:40-02:40:5840-0
3/7HouseHouse Floor07:09:43-07:38:55100-11
TBDFLSigned by Gov into law  

Here are some more details of how the law was made:

HB1135 merged in with HB1545 after committee hearings before hitting the house floor.

SB1238 merged in with SB1656 in between 1st and 3rd committee hearings; substituted HB1545 on the senate floor as the final bill.

Summary of Bill 2024.1545 1 amendment 1 and amendment 2: These amendments aim to address issues related to lewd or lascivious grooming and harmful communication to minors.

Amendment 1 defines “lewd or lascivious grooming” as the pattern of verbal, written, or electronic communication or conduct directed toward a child under 16 years of age, with the intent to cause or encourage the child to engage in any unlawful sexual behavior. Offenders who engage in such behavior would be charged with a felony of the third degree.

Amendment 2 introduces the concept of “harmful communication to a minor.” It defines “communication” broadly as any verbal or written communication. An adult who engages in a pattern of communication with a minor that includes explicit and detailed descriptions of sexual activity, conduct, or excitement, which is harmful to minors, would be charged with a felony of the third degree. Importantly, ignorance of the minor’s age or consent cannot be used as a defense in a prosecution under this section.

These amendments aim to protect minors from predatory behavior and ensure that adults who engage in inappropriate communication or grooming with minors face appropriate legal consequences.

Here is how it was presented to the Florida House of Reps for a vote:

HERE IT IS IN LAW: Child Exploitation Codes

All of that because of one woman, who started a network of concerned Americans and got a law passed. 

“Let’s stand united in advocating for laws that safeguard the innocence of our children. Together, we can build a resilient defense against child predators. We MUST close the loopholes in our laws that allow predators to steal the innocence of children,”  Hopper said in reaction to the passage. 

Other organizations that assisted in the successful changes for Florida include (but not
limited to):

Florida Republican Assembly – Kathryn Robbins & Lou Marin 
Sarasota County Republican Assembly – Conni Brunni, Meredyth Morrow, Jose & Sandra
America’s Future – Mary Flynn O’Neill
Christian Family Coalition – Anthony Verdugo & John LaBriola
Gays Against Groomers – FL Chapter – Mercedes Carota & Jana Warneck
Coalition of Mothers – Rebekah Ricks

This will be a series… look for more advice from Hopper to come soon.

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