Members of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday advanced bills that would have different outcomes on Florida’s felon population, which prompted one Democrat to call arguments on one of the bills “flat out stupid.”
The bills before the House panel would create third-degree felonies for inmates who bring cellphones into county jails, a separate measure debated would raise the felony theft threshold from $300 to $1,500.
When the cell phone proposal bill, HB 733, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, was up for debate, supporters argued it would make county jails safer for staffers. But that rubbed state Rep. Ramon Alexander the wrong way.
“What we are saying is, ‘oh you are a bad person and you got a cellphone in your hand and we are going to give you a felony’,” Alexander said. “We are saying that if we create this law and we create this felony somehow it is going to make our jails safer. That’s stupid! That is flat out stupid!”
Alexander voted against the measure, but acknowledged Sullivan’s effort to try and bring “uniformity” to the correctional system. Cell phones are currently barred from state correctional facilities.
Sullivan says her bill is meant to protect staff at county jails from the “huge security risks” that can result from inmates having cell phones inside the jail facility.
A representative with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance waived in support of the measure, arguing “terrorists make our country and world unsafe with cell phones” and that such electronic devices should not be inside jail facilities.
If passed, Sullivan’s bill would likely increase the numbers of felons in the state’s prison system. In contrast, the second bill debated is designed to significantly decrease the prison population and costs by raising felony property theft threshold.
Republican state Rep. Byron Donalds‘ bill, HB 713, would require someone to steal $1,500 to make them a felon, up from the current $300. If passed, it would be the first time the state increases the felony theft threshold since 1986.
Florida prisons currently have 1,136 inmates incarcerated for grand theft of $300 or more, but less than $5,000.
But Donalds says he wants to make sure those who steal more than $300-worth of stuff don’t have a felony on their criminal record for the rest of their lives.
The Florida Retail Federal opposed his measure. A representative with the organization said it would not support increasing the felony theft threshold by any amount because it “just means people will steal more from our members.”
For state Rep. Emily Slosberg, though, the bill means more voters in Florida.
“We are not sending a message that they can steal more, we are ensuring that more people have the right to vote,” she said.