Florida governor signs tougher sex offender bill in wake of killings

? Spurred by the killing of a 9-year-old girl, Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday signed a law imposing tougher penalties on child molesters and requiring many of those released from prison to wear satellite tracking devices for the rest of their lives.

The measure gives Florida one of the toughest child-sex laws in the nation.

The Jessica Lunsford Act was quickly drafted after Jessica’s death was discovered in March and was pushed through by lawmakers outraged that the man accused of killing her was a registered sex offender. It passed both the Senate and House unanimously.

It establishes a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life behind bars for people convicted of certain sex crimes against children 11 and younger, with lifetime tracking by global positioning satellite after they are freed.

Until the new law goes into effect Sept. 1, molesting a child under 12 is punishable in most cases by up to 30 years in prison.

Bush was joined by Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, who wore a tie bearing pictures of his daughter and said he had been working so furiously on the legislation that he has not yet really grieved.

“I’m still lost, I haven’t really dealt with it yet,” Lunsford said. He called the tie his “hug” from Jessica. “I’m still minus my kiss, but I’ve got my hug.”

John E. Couey, a convicted sex offender who was living near Jessica, was arrested in Georgia and was charged with snatching her from her bedroom and murdering her.

The bill’s momentum in the Legislature increased in April after another Florida girl, 13-year-old Sarah Lunde, was found dead and another registered sex offender was charged with murdering her.

The 25-year minimum would not apply to anyone convicted of molesting older children. Those offenders would have to be monitored electronically only during their probation, not for life.

Sarah Lunde’s mother and sister also were at the governor’s side as he signed the bill.

Gov. Jeb Bush, seated, signs into law the Jessica Lunsford Act during ceremonies Monday in Tallahassee, Fla. The bill enhances penalties for sexual crimes against children. Family members of Sarah Lunde and Jessica Lunsford, who were victims of sexual predators, were present. Standing, from left, are: Kelly May, Sarah Lunde's mother; Rep. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness; Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Crystal River; Rebekah Lunde, Sarah Lunde's sister; and Mark Lunsford, father of Jessica Lunsford.