Vito Sheeley, who has filed to oppose Wengay Newton in 2018 for House District 70, blasted the St. Petersburg Democrat Friday for proposing legislation that would criminally charge car theft victims.
“This is one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard out of Wengay Newton,” Sheeley said. “And that’s saying a lot.”
Making his first run toward elective office, Sheeley had served as an aide to Democrats like Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist.
“We can have a productive conversation about car theft, but throwing victims in jail is just crazy. It’s time for our community to have a serious advocate in Tallahassee — this is embarrassing.”
Newton’s legislation (HB 927) calls for criminal penalties if a car is left unattended without first stopping the engine, removing the key from the ignition, and locking the door. It would be a second-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail.
There are laws on the books right now that allow law enforcement to cite motorists for a noncriminal traffic violation for leaving their car running. It would enhance the penalty.
Members of the South St. Pete community — including Crist, Newton and state Sen. Darryl Rouson — have convened meetings over the past year with members of the community to address the explosion of youth stealing automobiles. Newton’s proposal is the first piece of legislation proposed to try to address the problem.
When contacted to respond to Sheeley’s criticism, Newton said he didn’t know who Sheeley was and didn’t believe he had to answer to anything he had to say.
“Who is he?” Newton asked. “What has he done for juveniles?”
Newton then told Florida Politics he had to leave for a television interview but would be willing to come back to speak about the bill itself later in the day. He did acknowledge seeing Facebook comments on the bill.
Since entering the race in July, Sheeley has raised $4,222; Newton has raised $14,870.
HD 70 covers parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.