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Senate president says bipartisan "initiative" aimed at sexual violent predators on the way

A bipartisan Senate initiative aimed at a “broad range” of issues related to violent sexual predators and the Department of Children & Families is expected to be announced by Christmas, Senate President Don Gaetz said Thursday.

“I think you will see in the next few days a bipartisan initiative in the Senate to address the issue of sexually violent predators and the broader issues associated with foster children and related issues in DCF,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said at a breakfast with reporters.

While he didn’t outline specifics, Gaetz said that Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and other senators have been working on these issues over the summer.

The violent sexual predator initiative would involve “a criminal justice element” that affects the jurisdiction of Senators Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island; a human services element that impacts Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; and Sobel who “is right at Ground Zero,” Gaetz said.

He also discussed concerns about DCF. Gaetz, who attended part of a Senate Committee meeting on Children, Families and Elder Affairs Tuesday, said that policy changes should become part of the law. “I don’t think we can rely upon who’s in charge," Gaetz said. "I think we have to make some changes in statute."

“DCF has some very fine people working there, very dedicated people,” he said, “but also, DCF, left to its own devices has lurched between crisis, trouble, solutions, crisis, trouble, solutions whether Democrats have been in charge or Republicans have been in charge.”

DCF has been working on implementing changes after revelations of a cluster of deaths of children under state care, a scandal that prompted the resignation of former Secretary David Wilkins.

Gaetz said he was “encouraged” by testimony by Stephen Pennypacker, DCF's new ’s testimony, but improvements “shouldn’t just be this is the promise of the administrator du jour but rather those specific items and many more.”

He said the issues of sexually violent predators and DCF “and it’s the side doors and the back doors and the open windows in DCF where we’re losing kids and kids are dying. This is an issue dealing with helping and protecting Florida’s most vulnerable children.”

Gaetz also said that House Speaker Will Weatherford is also concerned about these issues.

“I can’t speak for Will Weatherford, but I can tell you having traveled him and talked with him, I wouldn’t be surprised if a broad range of initiatives dealing with Florida’s vulnerable children didn’t find its place in the Weatherford-Gaetz 2.0 work plan.”