A loophole in public records law left an abused Southwest Florida girl confronted with the sight of her assaulter volunteering with children.
Now the Florida Legislature has passed a bill (HB 1229) to stop that from ever happening again.
If signed into law, Serena’s Law will make sure public record shields intended to protect the identity of sex abuse survivors don’t also keep offenders’ identities concealed from background checks.
The bipartisan legislation passed in the Senate unanimously Wednesday. It returned to the House Thursday, where it cleared the lower chamber on a 116-0 vote.
The bill is named for a Lee County girl who drew the weakness in Florida’s background check system to the attention of Rep. Jenna Persons-Mulicka, a Fort Myers Republican.
Serena, whose last name has not been disclosed, discovered her own assailant landed a job working with children despite having a restraining order against him.
“The single greatest responsibility we have as legislators is to protect the people of Florida,” Persons-Mulicka said “This young woman shed light into a very dark place, and because of her, countless others will be protected. I will carry Serena’s strength and purpose with me throughout my service to the people of Southwest Florida.”
Persons-Mulicka worked with Sen. Lauren Book, a Broward County Democrat with a reputation for standing up for victims of sexual assault, who carried the Senate companion (SB 1508)
“Serena’s Law was created in honor of an incredible young advocate who courageously shared her story not to make things different for herself, but as a vehicle to create change for others,” Book said on the Senate floor.
Persons-Mulicka co-introduced the bill with Rep. Robin Bartleman, a Weston Democrat, in the lower chamber.
“As a mother, when I dropped my daughters off at camp or youth group, I was under the impression that a thorough background check was done on the people that would be around my children and that it would find any problems,” Bartleman previously told Florida Politics. “After hearing Serena’s story, it is clear that a loophole exists and this law is an effort to close it.”
Book said helping children is one of the most important jobs of the Legislature.
“No system is perfect, but when it comes to child safety, that’s exactly what we should strive for — because the alternative is simply unacceptable,” Book said. “This comprehensive, bipartisan bill has been a labor of love for Sen. (Aaron) Bean, Sen. (Ana Maria) Rodriguez, Sen. (Darryl) Rousson, myself, and Senate President Wilton Simpson, who has made child welfare a top priority this Session. I am grateful for this collaborative approach to ensure Florida’s most vulnerable children are protected.”