For years drug trafficking and prostitution have been problems associated with blighted areas (including some of the old motels) along Sarasota's North Trail. Neighborhoods and police have had limited success in addressing these problems.
Recently the Tamiami Trail Scenic Highway Committee, along with the North Trail Neighborhoods looked for new solutions. While the SPD has done everything they could, the current classification of prostitution as a misdemeanor means that almost all the time, the prostitutes are freed after paying a relatively small fine and they are back on the streets.
The Scenic Highway Committee met with the States Attorney General (Earl Moreland and Earl Varn) and the Chief Judge (Robert Bennett) for Sarasota to let them know that the problem was increasing and that the penalties were not deterring the criminal activity. The PEZ (Prostitute Exclusion Zone) program was reviewed and the judges and prosecutors were asked to use this tool when possible as it calls for upgrading the charge to a felony for repeat offenders.
Another tool was discussed that was not yet in place in Florida: making prostitution a felony when an arrest is made within 1000 ft of public buildings, parks or churches - the same as drug trafficking.
Rep Donna Clarke was asked to introduce a bill to help in this area. She introduced HR 1087 in the State Legislature this month that would allow this tool to be used. If it stays on track, in could become Florida law in October of this year.
The text of this bill is given below:
A bill to be entitled
An act relating to prostitution; amending s. 796.07, F.S. providing for reclassification of penalties for certain violations committed within a specified distance of certain locations; providing an effective date.
Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
Section 1. Subsection (4) of section 796.07, Florida Statutes, is amended to read:
796.07 Prohibiting prostitution, etc.; evidence; penalties; definitions.--(4)(a) A person who violates any provision of this section commits:
1.(a) A misdemeanor of the second degree for a first violation, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
2.(b) A misdemeanor of the first degree for a second violation, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
3.(c) A felony of the third degree for a third or subsequent violation, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s.775.083, or s. 775.084.
(b) If a felony or first degree misdemeanor violation of this section was committed within 1,000 feet of the real property comprising a child care facility as defined in s. 402.302 that is in compliance with the signage requirements for child care facilities in s. 893.13(1)(c); a public or private elementary, middle, or secondary school; or a physical place for worship where a church or religious organization regularly conducts religious services; or in, on, or within 1,000 feet of real property comprising a state, county, or municipal park, a community center, or a publicly owned recreational facility, the penalty shall be reclassified as follows:
1. A misdemeanor of the first degree is reclassified to a felony of the third degree.
2. A felony of the third degree is reclassified to a felony of the second degree.
Section 2. This act shall take effect October 1, 2006.