Governor signs human smuggling measure, 16 more

TALLAHASSEE — Arresting human smugglers would be made somewhat easier under legislation Gov. Charlie Crist signed Thursday.

The law the governor signed makes human smuggling a crime in the state. Previously smuggling had been a federal but not a state crime. That meant that state and local law enforcement officers couldn’t arrest suspects they came across — often while patrolling state waters. The law permits state and local officers to arrest smugglers and charge them with a first-degree misdemeanor. They’d then likely be turned over to federal authorities.

The maximum penalty under the bill (HB 123) would be a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The bill was one of 17 the governor signed Thursday.

Another bill makes it easier for airports to get rid of birds and other animals. It is in part a response to the dramatic landing of a US Airways jetliner in New York’s Hudson River in January. Geese hit the plane’s engines after take-off, disabling them and forcing the pilot to land in the river. Hearings on the accident were held this week in Washington.

Airports statewide typically scare off birds by firing blank rounds, but sometimes common birds are killed. Currently an airport employee could face fines or even criminal charges for accidentally killing a rare species. The law (HB 1065) ensures that won’t happen.

Crist also approved a bill that imposes requirements on mail-in gold and prescious metal businesses in Florida. Law enforcement officials said the new requirements will help deter people from sending the businesses stolen items and help officers find and prosecute people who do.

Law enforcement officials had pushed the bill (SB 2700), saying that the mail-in businesses were at risk of becoming a mainstream fencing operation. The new law will require the Florida mail-in businesses, like Cash4Gold and Gold Fellow, to get a seller’s driver’s license number and a sworn statement that they own the goods they are selling. The requirements, which also include holding an item for 10 days, are similar to ones already imposed on pawn brokers.

Crist also vetoed one bill. The proposed law (HB 713) could have led to higher taxes for people who own homes around Lake Asbury.