Lawmakers and county officials gathered at the county administration building Thursday to celebrate the passing of HB-75, which makes it a third degree felony to remove a GPS ankle bracelet for home monitoring.

By making the removal of the ankle bracelet a third-degree felony, it makes it easier for law enforcement to crack down on domestic violence and keep victims safe. The bill was supported by the Orange County Domestic Violence Committee/Child Abuse Commission.

“This was a very important bill,” said Ninth Circuit Judge Alice Blackwell. “We wanted to make sure orders were enforced effectively. If someone cut off their ankle bracelet before, police had to go back and get an order before arresting them. This makes it a felony, so if someone does it, they can be arrested immediately.”

The bill, Blackwell said, was important because it allowed survivors of domestic violence the peace of mind that their abusers couldn’t come after them so easily.

The real surprise to many of the officials was that it wasn’t a crime to remove the bracelet before, unless it had been issued as part of community control. The bill’s potential to help domestic violence victims made it a bipartisan, universal issue to solve that problem, they said.

“In a time when this country is more divided than ever politically, we had a Republican senator and a Democratic representative on this bill,” Mayor Teresa Jacobs said. “We all came together without respect for party affiliation.”

Sen. David Simmons, who sponsored the bill with Rep. Victor Manuel Torres, said that while “we don’t have a panacea, we do have a toolbox we can use to help remedy the plague of domestic violence facing Central Florida.”

Ninth Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton said he was all for the bill.

“The more distance we can put between a victim and her abuser, the better,” he said. “This puts real teeth behind protecting the victim. I can’t wait to see an abuser’s face in court after he breaks off his ankle bracelet to try and get his victim to drop a misdemeanor case against him, when he learns what he’ll actually be charged with.”

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