Sen. Jeff Brandes promised criminal justice reforms, a sweeping transportation bill, banning fees on consumer report security freezes and “merlot-to-go,” but only half of those came true by the time the 2018 Legislative Session wrapped up.
As the process moved toward the 60-day finish line, the Pinellas County Republican was optimistic about his bold proposals.
His criminal justice reforms were sailing through committees, along with their companion bills in the House. His proposals would have created a council to oversee the criminal and juvenile justice systems, prohibit issuance of attorney’s fees in proceedings for a protective injunction for repeat sexual offenders and allowed judges to depart from mandatory sentences in drug trafficking cases.
A transportation bill he championed landed on the full Senate floor with a week left to go in Session. And Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was helping him champion a consumer report bill that ultimately passed the Legislature.
By Sine Die though, most of his criminal justice priorities were dead, as was the broad transportation package.
Senate Bill 1218, the criminal justice package with seven measures tucked in it including some of the efforts mentioned above, did not make it past its last committee stop. And a key risk assessment tool that accompanied that bill was stripped of funding when Senate leadership gave a good chunk of the money to fund Vivitrol, a medicine used for drug treatment.
Senate Bill 1287, the broad transportation package changing various commercial motor vehicle regulations and creating tougher penalties for those who commit cargo theft, died in messages on the last day of Session.
But it was not all bad for Brandes.
Some of the measures he championed that passed the Legislature included those seeking to prohibit state agencies and local governments from entering or renewing contracts with companies that boycott Israel, adding new protections to health care sharing ministries, and barring consumer reporting agencies from charging a fee for security fees on a credit report.
The Legislature also passed a bill that reduces the minimum age for someone to work as a correctional officer from 19 to 18 to fill in personnel shortage at correctional facilities, even though 18-year-olds would not be allowed to supervise inmates.
As the Senate’s top budget writer for criminal justice issues, Brandes got money for programs in the Department of Corrections and cameras at the Department of Juvenile Justice even though it was not as much as he initially wanted.
In initial budget proposals, for example, Brandes wanted to get $8 million to buy DJJ cameras to increase accountability on abuses that go on in the facilities, but in the end, legislative leaders only approved the project at $1 million.
Other member projects he pushed for that got funding include $1 million for the Pinellas County Lake Seminole Sediment Removal and Restoration Project; $1 million for USF St. Petersburg STEM programs; and $150,000 for the Florida Automated Vehicle Driver Education Initiative.