A raft of bills that would reform Florida’s criminal justice system sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes were approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday.
That included legislation that would create a criminal justice task force (SB 458) consisting of 27 members that would take a “holistic” review of the state’s criminal justice system, including (but not limited to) sentencing practices, minimum mandatory requirements in statute, prison and jail facilities and criminal penalties in statute. The task force would deliver a report on the first day of the 2018 legislative session.
“The goal is to bring the parties together in the interim between session and try to find using data based solutions, a pathway forward for comprehensive reform,” said Brandes.
The 27 member force would come from those representing the Florida House, Senate, the Governor’s offices and various state agencies, as well as from a victim’s advocacy group, the formerly incarcerated, and the faith community.
In talking about the need for such reform, Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley invoked the memory of Darren Rainey, the mentally ill inmate who died at Dade Correctional Institution in 2012 after he was thrown into a steaming shower.
“I don’t know what it takes to wake everybody up to know that we’ve got a problem, but we have a problem, and to fix the problem, you’ve gotta recognize that there’s a problem,” Bradley told his colleagues, asking if conservative states like Texas can enact such criminal justice reform, Florida surely can as well.
Three other Brandes backed bills addressing criminal justice were also passed by the committee.
Including among them was SB 448, which would give the discretion to law enforcement agencies to implement pre-arrest diversion programs for certain offenders.
A critic of the bill named Ralph Wilson said that the language of that legislation was derived from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the controversial organization that creates model conservative legislation that is adopted by state legislators around the country. Wilson claimed that when compared with ALEC’s “model legislation” on pre-arrest diversion. He claimed that three of the five sections of the bill was more than 97% identical to the ALEC bill.
Brandes rejected the claim, as did Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, who said that his organization actually shopped it over to ALEC.
Ocala Senator Dennis Baxley said that he previously had opposed the bill, but was coming around on it, and said he was impressed that ALEC was supporting it as well.
The committee also passed SB 450 involving public records. The bill would require that a civil citation, documentation of a rearrest diversion program and any other reports or documents held by a law enforcement agency are exempt from public records requirements.
And they passed SB 790 which is related to probation and community control.