TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - When Mark Lunsford dressed to go to the Capitol yesterday morning, he put on dark pants, a white shirt and a dark necktie patterned with painful memories.
It bore a dozen repeating pictures of his 9-year-old daughter, Jessica, smiling broadly. Since her death and the arrest of a convicted sex offender who has been charged with killing her, Jessica's father has worn the tie again and again to lobby lawmakers to tighten the state's pedophile laws.
"That's my hug," he said of the tie, which he wore as he watched Gov. Jeb Bush sign a package of laws named for his daughter. "I'm still minus my kiss, but I've got my hug every day."
The Jessica Lunsford Act was quickly drafted after Jessica was found dead in March and was passed unanimously by the state House and Senate.
John E. Couey, a convicted sex offender who lived near Jessica, was arrested in Georgia and was charged with snatching her from her bedroom and killing her.
The bill gained momentum in the Legislature last month after another Florida girl, 13-year-old Sarah Michelle Lunde, was found dead and another registered sex offender was charged with murder in her death.
The new law gives Florida one of the toughest child-sex laws in the nation. The law will keep sex offenders who molest children age 12 and younger in prison for 25 years to life. The current maximum sentence is 30 years, but the average sex offender does not stay behind bars for nearly that long.
Those released from prison would have to wear electronic monitoring bracelets for the rest of their lives to allow police to track them.
Although the tougher penalties apply only to sex offenders convicted after the law takes effect in September, it also could affect current sex offenders who are on probation. Sex offenders violating probation could be forced into an electronic monitoring program for life.
The new laws will also:
Make it easier to sentence to death sexual predators who kill.
Increase to 30 years from 20 years the time a sexual predator must wait before asking to be taken off the sexual predator rolls.
Force the state to keep better track of offenders by requiring them to check in twice a year. The state had lost track of Couey.
Bush, who signed the legislation as Mark Lunsford and Lunde's relatives looked on, said, "Their daughters did not deserve the incredible treatment they received. Their deaths, however, were not in vain."
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.