Brendan Farrington, Author at Florida Politics

Brendan Farrington

SD 40 race could be Donald Trump test for Democrats

Florida Democrats are facing a test to see whether anti-President Donald Trump politics will give them a boost ahead of a critical election year and perhaps signal a turnaround after two decades of Republican dominance in the Legislature.

They’ve made Trump a focal point in a special election set for Tuesday to replace a Miami-area Republican state senator who resigned after using racial slurs in front of black colleagues. The Republican in the race, state Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, was a contestant on Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice,” helping to make that connection easier.

“Trump’s apprentice just got the GOP nomination,” said a Democratic fundraising email when Diaz won the primary in July. “Contribute now to fire Trump’s apprentice.”

If Democrat Annette Taddeo wins with less money against the stronger organization of the Republican Party, it could be a sign of better times for Democrats. It would also test an anti-Trump strategy ahead of a 2018 election when the governor’s seat and all three Cabinet positions are open and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is up for re-election.

“It’s an interesting test. Does the Trump thing translate down the ballot in a nontypical election?” said Democratic political strategist Steve Schale. “If Democrats talk about getting back to a majority, you have to win races like this at some point.”

On paper, the district southwest of Miami leans Democratic. Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump last year, but Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also carried the district.

“I’m sure the Democrats are going to try to make it a referendum on Trump, but they’re going to have to spend a lot of money to do it,” said David Johnson, a Republican political consultant. “If Pepi wins, it will be credited largely to superior resources and organization.”

Taddeo, 50, has a television ad that begins with her clicking off a television showing a clip of Trump “attacking” professional wrestling icon Vince McMahon. And in a speech to supporters two months ago, she said, “We have a president that we need to stand up [to] and not stand on the sidelines. We need to fight him every step of the way.”

She has run for Congress twice, losing both times. She was also Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist‘s running mate in 2014 in a race barely lost to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

She said Diaz, 37, wasn’t shy about using his ties to Trump during the primary.

“When the president was insulting to Hispanics, instead of coming out and defending us, Representative Diaz actually joined his national Hispanic advisory council,” she said.

Diaz dismissed the attacks from Taddeo and Democrats over Trump and said that being on “The Apprentice” in 2006 was a life-changing experience — even if he was one of the first contestants to get fired.

“Having a camera on 24 hours a day changed me. It made me really think about just how important it is to make the right the decision at all times,” he said.

And while he said the race isn’t about Trump, some voters still see it that way.

“I support Diaz because I support President Trump,” said Republican Raul Musibay, 75.

Abel Lopez, a 65-year-old Democrat, agreed that the Trump factor was key.

“Anything I can do to help those against Trump,” Lopez said, “I will do it.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Adam Putnam: Fight hatred, but don’t fight over statues

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor, said Tuesday that Americans don’t need to fight about Confederate statues and should instead focus on fighting the country’s 21st-century enemies.

Putnam condemned white supremacists and the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, but said the country should not be fighting over the U.S. Civil War and erasing the nation’s history.

“What’s going on in Charlottesville is just awful and it’s hate and it’s violent and it’s dark and it’s got no place in our society,” Putnam told about 160 people gathered for a Leon County Republican barbecue dinner. “And we ought to be focused more on eradicating hate today than eradicating yesteryear’s history.”

Putnam’s family arrived in Florida in the mid-1800s and he is the fifth generation of ranchers and farmers. He’s also a former congressman who rose to become the fourth most powerful Republican in the U.S. House before returning to Florida, where he is serving his second term as agriculture commissioner.

Putnam said students need to be taught the history of the Civil War, in addition to the country’s involvement in fighting both Nazi Germany as well as more present-day enemies, such as those that planned the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Those are the lessons of history that we have to eternalize, and not have a big fight over something that happened 150 years ago, but have a fight about how to make America stronger and more united today against the enemies today – the people who want to eradicate capitalism and free enterprise and democracy,” he said. Those battles, he said, are preferable to “having a fight about a statue that most people just walk past and assume it’s just a pigeon roost anyway.”

Apparently that also includes a Confederate monument on the grounds of the Florida Capitol, where Putnam has worked the last seven years and where he previously served as a state legislator. Some people are calling for its removal.

“As much as I love history, I’ve never noticed it. Where is it? What is it?” Putnam said when asked about the monument, which honors Confederate soldiers from Leon County who died in the Civil War. It has been on the Capitol grounds since 1882.

Putnam is seeking the seat being vacated by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who will leave office in January 2019 due to term limits.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Lawmaker: Governor’s office broke promise to LGBTQs

When 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Florida in 2016, Gov. Rick Scott publicly offered his sympathy to the victims’ families and the LGBT community.

“These are individuals. Let’s love every one of them,” he said then.

Behind the scenes, gay rights advocates say his staffers went a step further, promising to pursue an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state workers and contractors. More than a year later, no such order has been issued.

The advocates believe the order has become even more important in the past couple of weeks as the U.S. Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, filed court papers in a New York case saying that sexual orientation is not covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The law bans workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, however, enforces the law against private employers and says sexual orientation is covered.

The Republican governor wouldn’t talk about the alleged commitment his staff made when asked by an Associated Press reporter on Tuesday. But he said federal guidelines protect the gay community and the state follows them.

State Rep. Carlos Smith, a gay Democrat, accused Scott of using the nightclub shooting to his political advantage.

“Many political leaders used the tragedy at Pulse to leverage their own political careers and to make promises to our community that they could have delivered on but they did not,” Smith said at a recent forum for Orlando’s gay and Latino communities. A majority of the Pulse victims were gay Latinos.

After the Pulse massacre, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the gay advocates said two members of the governor’s staff met at a hotel with leaders from the group Equality Florida.

The governor’s staffers — then-chief of staff Kim McDougal and legislative affairs director Kevin Reilly — asked what could be done to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community, and the advocates answered that he should issue the anti-discrimination order, according to the Equality Florida representatives.

“They sat with us and said, ‘This is something that is important.’ This was an issue they believed could move forward and if there was any problem, any concerns, they would let us know,” Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith said.

Nothing happened.

When asked about the matter in Tampa on Tuesday, Scott wouldn’t say if he would sign such an order or had changed his mind.

“I think it’s important that everybody in our state feels comfortable and never feel discriminated against and that’s what’s important to me,” Scott said.

Reilly and McDougal didn’t respond to emails and a phone call.

Scott often has had a chilly relationship with the gay community. The governor supported Florida’s attempt to defend its ban on gay marriage, which eventually was struck down by federal courts and he campaigned against adoptions by gays and lesbians in 2010. After the Pulse attack, he was criticized for calling the attack a terrorist act but neglecting, initially, to note it targeted the LGBTQ community, though he would later mention the community in speeches and interviews. The Pulse gunman had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group.

An executive order from the governor would be important for Jim Brenner, and his husband, Chuck Jones, because now there’s too much ambiguity on whether gay state workers are protected from discrimination, said Brenner, who retired last September from his job as fire management administrator at the Florida Forestry Division in Tallahassee. His husband still works for the state Education Department.

Jim Brenner and his husband, Chuck Jones, talk about gay rights and discrimination in Florida.

Brenner, who is widely published in trade periodicals, believes his sexual orientation hindered his career promotions.

“Peers felt I did a very good job, but I got to a certain point where things just came to a screeching halt,” Brenner said. “I believe it’s because of sexual orientation. Everybody knew that I was living with someone and that someone wasn’t a woman.”

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Appeals judge: 20-year sentence for firing gun an injustice

An appeals court judge criticized Florida’s mandatory minimum gun laws Tuesday while regretfully upholding the 20-year-sentence of a man who fired a gun at the ground.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal agreed that Eric Patrick Wright’s sentence cannot be reduced, but Judge James Wolf took the extra step of writing an opinion that calls the case an injustice.

“This case … is a classic example of how inflexible mandatory minimum sentences may result in injustices within the legal system that should not be tolerated,” Wolf wrote.

Court documents show that Wright’s ex-girlfriend and mother of his child barged into his fiancee’s Jacksonville home in 2013 to confront him. He asked her to leave, she refused and a struggle ensued. Wright drew a gun and fired it to scare her off.

“It is undisputed that the gun was not fired directly at the victim and was fired in an attempt to get the victim to leave,” Wolf wrote.

Wright was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill. Because a gun was fired, he fell under Florida’s 10-20-Life law for gun crimes. He was 24 at the time, with no prior criminal record, and had held the same job for four years. The trial judge said she didn’t want to sentence Wright to 20 years, but had to under law.

Wolf also noted that the Legislature has twice changed the 10-20-Life law since the incident. The first change in 2014 would have given a judge leeway to issue a shorter sentence. Then last year the Legislature removed aggravated assault from the list of offenses under which the mandatory minimum sentencing law applies.

But neither change was retroactive. Wolf said it was “bad timing” for Wright and suggested he seek clemency before the governor and Cabinet.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida politics lopsided despite required fair districts

Florida has more registered Democrats than Republicans, but the balance of power in government doesn’t even come close to reflecting that.

Despite a 2010 constitutional amendment aimed at preventing political gerrymandering, Republicans dominate Florida politics. Democrats only hold 41 of 120 state House seats, 15 of 40 Senate seats and are outnumbered in in the U.S. House 16-11.

While it would be easy to say Republicans built their power because they draw the political boundaries for Congress and the Legislature, it’s not as simple as that. Yes, observers note, it has contributed to the lopsided political numbers in a state where presidential elections are often seen as a tossup. But they point out Republicans are at this point just better at raising money, recruiting candidates and winning races in districts that should be more competitive.

The Associated Press analyzed all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly elections last year using a statistical method of calculating partisan advantage designed to detect potential gerrymandering. Florida was found to be one of the states with the largest Republican tilts in the state House. While it also showed Florida Republicans’ advantage in Congress was slightly more than should’ve been expected, it wasn’t to the point that clearly indicated gerrymandering.

The analysis examined the share of votes cast for Republican and Democratic candidates in each district and projected the expected number of seats each party would gain if districts were drawn so that neither party had an overall advantage. In Florida, Republicans had about 11 more seats in the state House than would be expected, one of the largest margins in the country.

Political maps are redrawn every 10 years after a new U.S. Census. Republicans helped gain dominance in Florida by controlling that process in 2002. Democrats controlled it in 1992 when they commanded the Legislature. Then Republicans flipped enough seats to take control by the time Republican Gov. Jeb Bush was elected in 1998.

“Republicans really put their foot on the gas when Bush got elected,” said Steve Schale, a Democratic political consultant.

The state House went from a 71-49 Democratic majority in 1994 to an 81-39 Republican majority after the 2002 election when districts were redrawn by Republican lawmakers. Schale said Republicans drew maps with highly concentrated Democratic districts so that they could create more Republican-strong districts that weren’t as concentrated.

As a result, Schale said, districts seen as competitive still have a slight Republican edge: “Even the places that are competitive aren’t truly like jump balls.”

Republicans acknowledge the 2002 rewrite favored their party.

Former Republican state Rep. Jeff Kottkamp sat on the House committee that redrew House maps. Kottkamp, who later served as lieutenant governor, said lawyers warned lawmakers that there were still rules that had to be followed. “You knew that the district had to be as compact as possible, contiguous. You tried to keep communities of interest all together. It just wasn’t always possible,” he said.

But he said every legislator tried to push for districts that increased their chances for re-election.

“Obviously if you’re the party in power and your members wanted to draw districts that helped themselves get elected, to a certain extent that’s naturally going to benefit the majority,” Kottkamp noted.

The 2010 “fair districts” constitutional amendment was aimed at preventing that practice. It requires lawmakers to draw maps that don’t benefit incumbents or political parties and to try to keep communities from being divided for political purposes.

Those behind the amendment successfully sued to have U.S. House and state Senate maps redrawn because they didn’t meet constitutional muster, but state House maps went unchallenged.

So, if the maps are fair, why do Republicans still dominate the state House? University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith said Republicans are better at fielding candidates and running campaigns — particularly in about 30 truly competitive districts.

“Republicans have done a good job of targeting those areas and getting good candidates and putting a lot of money into marginal districts, which they tend to win,” he said.

Likewise, he said state Senate maps are drawn fairly, but Democrats underperform in districts they should win.

Part of the problem with Democrats is institutional, said Schale. He said the party has no discipline and doesn’t recruit candidates as aggressively as it should.

“Too often we’ve settled for the first person who raised their hand, and that was not always the best option,” Schale said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Florida law shifts burden of proof in ‘stand your ground’

Florida became the first state with a law that spells out that prosecutors, and not defendants, have the burden of proof in pretrial “stand your ground” hearings when Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday.

The measure was among 16 bills that Scott signed, including a bill that gives students and school employees a broader right to express their religious viewpoint in schools.

The “stand your ground” bill was fought by prosecutors who say it will make their job more difficult to convict people who commit acts of violence and claim self-defense.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that defendants have to prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution on charges for a violent act.

That led Republicans to seek to shift that burden. They argued that it protects a defendant’s constitutional right that presumes they are innocent until proven guilty. But opponents said it will embolden people to shoot to kill, and then claim self-defense knowing that the only witness against them can no longer testify.

Only four of the other 21 states with “stand your ground” laws mention burden of proof – Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina – and all place it on defendants.

Many states have long invoked “the castle doctrine,” allowing people to use deadly force to defend themselves in their own homes.

Florida changed that in 2005, so that even outside a home, a person has no duty to retreat and can “stand his or her ground” anywhere they are legally allowed to be. Other states followed suit, and “stand your ground” defenses became much more common in pre-trial immunity hearings and during trials.

The 2012 killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman opened a debate about the limits of self-defense, and it hasn’t let up since Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder after jurors received instructions on Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Florida could pave new changes in ‘stand your ground’ laws

Lucy McBath is afraid many more people will die if Florida Gov. Rick Scott signs a bill making it harder to prosecute when people claim they commit violence in self-defense.

She already lost her son, an unarmed black teenager, when a white man angry over loud music and claiming self-defense fired 10 times at an SUV filled with teenagers.

The measure before Scott would effectively require a trial-before-a-trial whenever someone invokes self-defense, making prosecutors prove the suspect doesn’t deserve immunity.

Scott hasn’t revealed his intentions, but he’s a National Rifle Association supporter, and this is an NRA priority.

“If it passes in Florida, then they take that same legislation and they push it on the legislative floors across the country,” said McBath, whose 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was killed by Michael Dunn outside a Jacksonville convenience store in 2012.

Many states have long invoked “the castle doctrine,” allowing people to use even deadly force to defend themselves in their own homes.

Florida changed that in 2005, so that even outside a home, a person has no duty to retreat and can “stand his or her ground” anywhere they are legally allowed to be. Other states followed suit, and “stand your ground” defenses became much more common in pre-trial immunity hearings and during trials.

The 2012 killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman opened a debate about the limits of self-defense, and it hasn’t let up since Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder after jurors received instructions on Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Florida Republicans made this bill a priority after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the defendant has the burden of proof before trial. If Florida starts a national trend to shift that burden to prosecutors, it’ll be just fine with Republican Rep. Bobby Payne, who sponsored the bill.

Only four of the 22 or more state “stand your ground” laws mention this burden of proof — in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina — and all place it on defendants.

“It’s about following our right of innocent until proven guilty,” Payne said. “It’s about Fifth Amendment rights, it’s about due process, it’s about having a true immunity, for when folks really believe they’re in imminent threat of great bodily harm or death, to defend themselves properly.”

Senators originally wanted prosecutors to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” before trial that self-defense didn’t justify a violent crime. The final legislation lowered the threshold to “clear and convincing” evidence.

Either way, it makes prosecuting violent crimes more difficult, experts say.

“I think there will be more false ‘stand your ground’ claims,” said former Broward County prosecutor Gregg Rossman, who has tried 65 murder cases. The pre-trial hearings are “very much going to be like a mini-trial.”

Proving a killer didn’t act in self-defense when there are no living witnesses would be particularly hard, he said: “I worry the most about the one-on-one cases. You and I get into an argument and I shoot you. Who speaks for you?”

But public defenders say it should help people who were simply trying to defend themselves. Prosecutors often use the threat of minimum mandatory sentences to coerce people into accepting a plea deal even if their use of force was justified, said Stacy Scott, a public defender in Gainesville.

“It’s going to force them to deal more fairly with citizens who are charged with crimes, and will help our clients either get better plea offers or exonerate themselves earlier in the process so they don’t have to wait until a jury trial and risk everything they have in order to litigate their case,” Scott said.

McBath, who lives in Marietta, Georgia, believes the guilty will more likely escape convictions. It took two trials to convict her son’s killer of murder.

“We’re just one out of so many,” she said. “Because we won our case, I honestly, honestly believe that’s the reason why they’re putting these additional measures into ‘stand your ground.’”

Justifiable homicide claims have doubled on average in states that have passed “stand your ground” laws, said John Roman of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

Also, whites who kill black people are 10 times more likely to win a “stand your ground” claim than blacks who kill whites, said Roman, who analyzed these cases while at the Urban Institute think tank.

Studies also show that white people are more likely to feel threatened by black people than the other way around, “and if you then add onto implicit bias the ability to use lethal force, it’s reasonable then to expect that lethal force will be disproportionately applied to minorities,” he said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida passes bill to issue certificates for miscarriages

Florida could become the first state to issue what’s essentially a birth certificate for women who’ve had miscarriages under a bill the Legislature sent to Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday.

The Grieving Families Act would give parents the option of receiving a state-issued certificate if a pregnancy is lost between nine weeks and 20 weeks of gestation.

“The parent can name the child if they have a gender or they can just name it Baby Smith,” said Republican Rep. Bob Cortes, the bill’s House sponsor. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Republican or Democrat, somebody in life has been touched through a miscarriage and they understand how important this is as part of the grieving process.”

The Senate passed the bill unanimously Thursday, three weeks after the House passed it on a 115-1 vote. The bill was worded in a way to ensure it wouldn’t spark a partisan argument over whether the state was trying to define life.

“This has nothing to do with personhood,” said Democratic Sen. Lauren Book, who said she received calls from people concerned about the bill. “It rather gives families that are grieving during a very difficult time some closure.”

Pregnancies that end at 20 weeks or later are considered stillbirths and death certificates must be issued. Parents can also request a birth certificate in such cases. A handful of states allow death certificates to be issued to women who’ve had miscarriages, but Cortes said Florida would be the first to issue what would be called “certificates of nonviable birth.”

He said many couples who grieve after a miscarriage already seek out certificates.

“They’re doing it right now, they’re just paying ungodly amounts of money for a fake certificate on the internet,” he said. “You have parents that have had miscarriages at 19 weeks and they find out after the grieving process that one more week and they could have gotten a certificate, and now they can’t get it.”

The certificate would contain language that it is not to be used as proof of a live birth.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Lawyer: Frank Artiles’ racial slurs offensive, but also free speech

A lawyer representing a state senator who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities said Thursday that the remarks — as offensive as they were — are protected by free speech and that other senators have used similar language.

Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case of Republican Frank Artiles and said that a complaint filed by black lawmakers shouldn’t be pursued because Artiles is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

He also said Artiles’ comments should be judged side-by-side with the remarks of other senators.

“Should this matter be sent to the Senate floor, my client intends to put evidence of other similar speech by other Senators,” Andrews wrote to Senate lawyer Dawn Roberts.

He also said Roberts should step down from the case because of conflicts of interest, having previously represented Artiles and witnesses that could be called.

The matter began Monday night during a private conversation with two African-American senators at a members-only club near the Capitol. Artiles used obscenities with Sen. Audrey Gibson, including one particularly offensive to women.

Sen. Perry Thurston intervened and Artiles, a Cuban-American from the Miami area, used a variation of the “n-word” and used a vulgarity to describe Republican Senate President Joe Negron, according to the complaint filed Wednesday by Thurston.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, reviewed the complaint and found it’s likely Artiles’ comments and behavior violated Senate rules.

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus is asking for Artiles’ expulsion, which would be an option if the full Senate determines there was a rules violation.

Negron asked Roberts to make a recommendation by Tuesday.

In the meantime, Republican Gov. Rick Scott weighed in on the matter while speaking with reporters in Tampa.

“If I had an employee that said what he said, I would immediately fire him,” Scott said.

Thurston wasn’t immediately available for comment, according to a receptionist in his Senate office.

In a separate letter to Negron, Andrews told the Senate president that he should avoid voting on any punishment because he has already prejudged Artiles by condemning the comments earlier this week.

____

AP writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report. Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Helping kids who make mistakes: Florida considering 2 ideas

There’s widespread agreement between lawmakers, law enforcement and child advocates that the state can do more to help juveniles who make stupid mistakes to stay out of trouble and avoid a criminal record that could follow them the rest of their lives.

But what approach it should take is still a matter of disagreement.

“Everybody’s heart is absolutely in the right place wanting to decriminalize being a youth in Florida, it’s just a matter of how to go about it,” said Mary Slapp, vice president of Teen Court of Sarasota, a juvenile diversion program in which offenders are tried by other teenagers and sentenced to community service.

There are two bills moving through the Legislature aimed at helping young offenders by getting them into diversion programs, like teen court, after they’ve committed their first misdemeanor crime.

A Senate bill would mandate that law enforcement issue a civil citation after a first juvenile arrest for a list of specific misdemeanors and a House bill would automatically expunge a youth’s arrest record after a diversion program is completed.

All sides agree the expansion of civil citation programs around the state has helped keep youth from committing more crimes, but tinkering with the program to improve it is where it gets complicated.

Republican Sen. Anitere Flores said the program has been inconsistent from county to county and she points to statistics that show civil citations are issued instead of arrest in only little more than half the cases where youth are eligible for them. According to Department of Juvenile Justice statistics, 8,831 youths eligible for civil citations were arrested, while 9,696 were issued citations.

“That’s a lot of kids,” she said. “Having the lack of uniformity means that some kids are getting a second chance and a whole bunch of other kids aren’t.”

Her bill requires civil citations in cases like alcohol possession, battery, trespass, theft, prowling, resisting an officer without violence and others. State statistics show that about 4 percent of youths who go through the civil citation program commit crimes again.

Republican Rep. Larry Ahern also believes in the civil citation program, but he doesn’t believe in forcing mandates on law enforcement. His bill would try to help first-time juvenile offenders while allowing police officers the discretion to decide when a citation is appropriate. As well as expunging records, it would legally allow people who’ve completed diversion programs to deny the arrest ever occurred when applying for a job, housing or the like.

It also would apply to any misdemeanor, not just a limited list.

“The record that follows a juvenile through their adulthood over a stupid mistake was a big part of the equation, so how do you eliminate that?” Ahern said.

The Florida Sheriff’s Association is backing the Ahern bill and opposed to the Flores bill. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri cited several hypothetical scenarios where arrests would be more appropriate than a civil citation, such as a drunken teenager on a beach creating a disturbance and resisting officers, or a teenager prowling in a backyard who is clearly about to break into a home.

Gualtieri said the sheriffs worked with Ahern on the different approach.

“We have offered something that absolutely takes care of the problem, what does the mandate do that our solution doesn’t do?” Gualtieri said.

While Slapp said civil citation is a good tool, she believes neither bill addresses problems with a lack of flexibility in the current program, such as a limit on three citations. She also said there are certain felony situations that don’t qualify for a civil citation, but where a diversion program would be more appropriate than an arrest, such as when a youth who takes a joyride on a golf cart doesn’t realize it’s a felony motor vehicle theft.

That’s what happened to Katy McBrayer. She was a straight A student and well-behaved at 14 when she started dating an 18-year-old who introduced her to drugs. She started making bad decisions, skipping school and staying away from home. Then she was caught driving a golf cart off a school’s property. Neither the Flores nor Ahern bill would have applied in her case because it was a felony.

She got in trouble again, for burglary and marijuana possession, and was allowed the option of going to teen court rather than to trial.

She mended her relationship with her parents, went to night school and ended up earning a college scholarship.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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