The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners at their Sept. 19 regular meeting approved amendments to two ordinances that strengthen protections from sexual offenders and sexual predators required to be registered relating to activities primarily targeting children and establishing child safety zones that include parks, libraries and similar locations.
“These ordinance amendments improve the safety of our community and particularly the well-being of the children living in and visiting St. Johns County,” Commission Chair Christian Whitehurst said. “One of the priorities for the Board of County Commissioners is a resilient future for children. We strengthened that future with these stronger ordinances.”
St. Johns County Ordinance No. 2009-43 makes it unlawful for sexual offenders/predators who are required to be registered to participate in any holiday event involving children under 18, including distributing candy to children or wearing costumes to entertain or attract children, and requires sexual offenders/predators to avoid all Halloween activities.
Highlights of the amendments included expanding prohibited participation to include any practice or event (not limited to national or local holidays) that is primarily targeted to non-familial children; prohibiting alteration of appearance in a way that could entice, attract or lure children; and specifying the types of prohibited exterior displays and decorations.
St. Johns County Ordinance No. 2009-36 makes it unlawful for sexual predators/offenders to be on or within 300 feet of a St. Johns County park and recreation center, school, daycare center, arcade, school bus stop (when children are present), YMCA/YWCA, designated public library areas, public or private playgrounds, Boys and Girls Club’s facilities, youth camp grounds or other similar locations or facilities designed for or primarily used by children.
Highlights of the amendments included extending the safety zone distance from 300 feet to 1,000 feet and providing new and revised definitions for terms such as “amenity center,” “child care facility,” “park,” “permanent facility,” “playground,” “Safety Zone,” “school” and “school bus stop,” as well as strengthening the ordinance by clarifying potentially ambiguous provisions.
In 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled that signage requirements like the one in the county’s previous ordinance violated the First Amendment. Thus, St. Johns County had to revise an ordinance to comply with federal law. As part of the revision process, the county strengthened other provisions in the ordinance to further restrict the ability of sexual offenders and sexual predators to be in contact with unsuspecting children, and also added additional prohibitions on participation in holiday activities by sexual offenders and sexual predators.
Under Florida law, “sexual offenders” and “sexual predators” must, among other things, register with the local sheriff’s office upon release from custody, establishing residency in the state or being designated as a sexual offender/predator and must regularly update their registration, including for changes to the information.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement provides a Sexual Offenders and Predators Search portal at offender.fdle.state.fl.us/offender/sops/home.jsf.
“The safety and well-being of our most vulnerable citizens, our children, is paramount to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office,” St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick said. “These ordinance amendments are just another example of keeping our children in St. Johns County safe.”