ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Gov. Charlie Crist signed four new laws that focus heavily on children including one that will reinstate Florida's back-to-school sales tax "holiday." A second will ban sexual offenders and predators from going near places where children congregate and from wearing costumes attractive to kids.
The other new laws tighten the screening of caregivers for children, seniors and disabled people and require background checks for youth sports coaches. Crist held separate signing ceremonies Wednesday in Orlando for the tax holiday (HB 483) and sexual predator (HB 119) bills.
"Our children deserve to have the resources and materials they need to be successful and competitive in the classroom," Crist said during the tax holiday signing at a department store. The Legislature shelved the tax breaks the last two years due to tight budgets.
The state's still facing a cash crunch so this year's version will be only three days -- Aug. 13-15 -- instead of the usual week to 10 days. Books, clothing, wallets and bags costing less than $50 and school supplies priced at less than $10 will be tax-free under the law that passed with strong backing from the Florida Retail Federation.
The sexual offender and predator law will ban those convicted of an offense against a child from coming within 300 feet of such spots as schools and parks. Violators could get up to a year in jail. The new law also prohibits them from wearing Santa Claus and Easter Bunny suits, clown costumes and other child-friendly garb.
"Sexual offenders and predators have no right to prey on our children and this law is another step towards securing safer neighborhoods, schools and communities for them," Crist said.
The new caregiver screening law (HB 7069) would prohibit applicants for jobs in such places and day care centers and nursing homes from working before their background checks have been completed and require all to be fingerprinted and undergo criminal records checks.
The state's old law allowed some applicants to work before getting cleared and without being fingerprinted. The Legislature passed the stronger requirements in response to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation that showed convicted felons were getting jobs caring for children, the elderly and disabled people.
A separate screening law (SB 150) will require entities that sanction youth sports to screen coaches through sexual offender and predator websites maintained by the state and federal governments or use a commercial consumer reporting agency that does background checks using those sites. Anyone listed on the registries would be barred from coaching.