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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – With backers saying they are trying to better protect school children, the Florida House has approved a bill that would toughen penalties for teachers and other school employees who commit sexual offenses against students.

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, said teachers need to face consequences for taking advantage of students sexually.

“The message needs to be sent – this is unacceptable,” Edwards said.

The bill (HB 485), which was approved in a 107-8 vote, would increase penalties for the offenses. As an example, an offense that currently would be considered a third-degree felony would become a second-degree felony.

Rep. Joe Saunders, an Orlando Democrat who voted against the bill, said he was concerned about the severity of penalties in certain circumstances, such as in what are known as “Romeo and Juliet” relationships. For example, that might involve an 18- or 19-year-old school worker or volunteer who is involved in a relationship with a high-school student.

Other House members who voted against the bill were Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando; Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami; Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach; Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee; Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami; Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston; and Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.


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