Jeff Brandes – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Criminal justice report given to legislators will guide reform

A four-volume, plain-spoken treatise on criminal justice reform is available to the public and it’s already caught the eyes of some legislators looking to reform Florida’s criminal justice system.

Reforming Criminal Justice” recently was published by the Academy for Justice, a group of 120 leading criminal justice scholars representing some of the best higher education institutions in the world, including University of California at Berkeley, University of Chicago, Columbia University, Georgetown University, Harvard University, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, Vanderbilt University, and the University of Virginia.

Of the 120 scholars, some contributed directly and others peer-reviewed the work. The team was assembled and led by Erik Luna, an Amelia D. Lewis professor of constitutional & criminal law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. 

The volume breakdown: criminalization, policing, pretrial and trial processes, and punishment, incarceration and release. Each of the 57 chapters explores policy issues and provides actionable recommendations. 

The work was applauded Tuesday at the Capitol by Right on Crime and the Charles Koch Institute. The two groups typically advocate for right-leaning policies but their work on criminal justice has drawn unfamiliar allies — such as the ACLU and the NAACP — making it mostly a nonpartisan effort. 

Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow at CKI, said Florida is the “most important state in the country on (criminal justice reform).” He said the state’s size and conservative leadership make it distinct from many other states, while an example for others with red leadership.

“When Florida moves on criminal justice reform, people across the country will take it very, very seriously.” Reddy said.

And it looks like Florida is ready to move. Available to the public online, the report also is being distributed to some members of the Legislature.

Criminal justice power players Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, and state Rep. Cord Byrd, a Jacksonville Beach Republican, attended the press conference. Byrd is vice chair of Justice Appropriations in his chamber. Brandes chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

On the report, Brandes said, “This document will become very important as we continue to build a foundation of policies to move the state forward in criminal justice reform.”

Brandes this Session is championing pre-arrest diversion programs, which are designed to lower incarceration rates, along with other reform bills.

Senate panel to consider juvenile ‘Fight Club’ reforms

A Senate panel on Tuesday will consider two measures that would provide more oversight to the state’s juvenile justice system, which is under scrutiny for its widespread use of unnecessary and excessive force on youth detainees.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican who chairs a powerful criminal justice committee, is sponsoring both bills and intends to champion a slew of other criminal justice reforms throughout Session.

A pair of those reforms up for debate on Tuesday would make it easier for lawmakers and those appointed to the Florida Correctional Operations Oversight Council to look into specific issues plaguing the youth detainees and their enforcers. These reforms would not apply to private detention centers.

One of the bills (SB 1208) would expand the responsibilities of the nine-member Florida Correctional Operations Oversight Council to include monitoring of daily operations of correctional and juvenile facilities.

Those appointed to the council by the governor, House Speaker and/or Senate President would be tasked with more than just making policy and budget recommendations to the Legislature. Now, they would also be charged with identifying problems in the juvenile system by conducting inspections and interviews and completing an annual report on their findings.

The proposal comes in the wake of the Miami Herald “Fight Club” series which found that over a 10-year period youth care workers would give detainees honey buns and other treats as a reward for beating other youth.

The year-long probe revealed systemic misconduct at the DJJ stemming from inexperienced and underpaid staff, inadequate personnel standards and a high tolerance for cover-ups.

The second bill, SB 1004, aims to add lawmakers to the list of those who can visit any of the 21 juvenile detention facilities “at their pleasure,” and not strictly by appointment. Current state law allows lawmakers and other elected and appointed officials to visit any adult correctional facility “at their pleasure.”

In a letter to members of the Legislature last October, DJJ Secretary Christina Daly said lawmakers who don’t want to go through the appointment process, can visit juvenile centers. But said youth detainees “suffer from previous trauma and interruptions of their daily schedules can be problematic.”

The bill would also prohibit the DJJ from “unreasonably withholding” access to reporters, intending to increase transparency through independent reviews of facilities.

After high-profile data breaches, legislators want to toss credit freeze fees

In the wake of recent high-profile data breaches compromising the information of thousands of Floridians, legislators and cabinet members on Wednesday advocated for two bills that would eliminate credit report freeze fees for consumers.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are backing two measures proposed in the Legislature, which they say would toss a “fundamentally unfair burden” to victims of identity theft.

“When our citizens have their information violated, those credit rating agencies have the ability to implement an up to $10 freeze fee to protect their credit from something that was out of their control,” Patronis said. “That is unacceptable.”

Patronis, who is running for a second term as CFO, touted Putnam as an “outstanding advocate” of the effort. Putnam is currently in the run to be the next governor.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican, is leading the fight to put an end to these fees in the Senate. While his bill awaits committee referrals, the companion House bill sponsored by state Rep. Shawn Harrison is up for a hearing Wednesday.

In recent months, the state has had its fair share of data breaches including one by Uber, which is currently under investigation by Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office. The information of at least 32,000 Uber drivers in the state may have been compromised during a 2016 hack.

Most recently, though, the state Agency of Health Care Administration said the personal and medical information of up to 31,000 may have been accessed after an employee opened a malicious email last November.

Patronis said Miami, Naples and Tallahassee are the state’s hot spots for identity theft.

Florida could grant legal immunity for reporting drug overdoses

A Senate panel on Tuesday advanced a bill that would grant people immunity for carrying small amounts of drugs if they seek medical help for an overdose.

The proposal applies to individuals who are found in possession of any drug, including fentanyl and illicit opioids, if they ask for medical assistance in “good faith” when they believe a user is experiencing an overdose.

“It’s really trying to make sure that if somebody is in the midst of seeing somebody struggling of an overdose they shouldn’t have to be worried about the state charging them,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican sponsoring the measure.

“They should immediately do the right thing — the focus here is to save lives.”

Under a law signed last year that created tougher drug trafficking statutes, fentanyl traffickers can face first-degree murder charges  if users die from an overdose.

The law was in response to the growing opioid epidemic gripping the state and upon passage was praised by Attorney Pam Bondi as life-saving legislation that “gives law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to combat the trafficking of fentanyl.”

The proposed measure (SB 970) would not toss or change that law. However, it would give arrest and prosecution immunity to people who seek medical assistance in “good faith” if they believe an individual is experiencing an alcohol or drug-related overdose even if they are found in possession of fentanyl and helped distribute the drug to the user.

Over 40 states have passed similar laws over the years. Brandes believes it can help lower the number of “preventable” alcohol- and drug-related overdose deaths in Florida, which amounted to 5,392 in the first six months of 2016, according to Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics.

The vote to move the bill ahead was unanimous. The measure now has two more committee stops before it can head to the full floor for consideration.

Hours before the vote Senate President Joe Negron kicked off the 2018 legislative session by urging lawmakers to address the opioid crisis and to make sure addicts have access to the resources they need to beat their drug habits.

Brandes, who has long championed criminal justice reform bills and is now the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, said he is “excited” to see a shift in policy this year in the criminal justice arena.

Senator files ‘certificate of need’ repeal bill, identical to House priority

Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill Wednesday that would toss a controversial “certificate of need” hospital regulatory process as the House fast-tracks an identical bill.

House Republican leaders and Gov. Rick Scott, a former hospital CEO, have long supported repealing the “certificate of need,” but the effort has stalled in the Senate.

This year, though, the bill has a powerful advocate in the Senate: Budget Chairman Rob Bradley, who last Session filed a bill to scrap that regulation.

“By eliminating the state’s restrictive CON process we’ll increase competition and drive down the cost of health care for Floridians,” Bradley said.

The House bill filed by state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, a Fort Myers Republican, is already set for a week-one floor vote, an indication that it is again a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Brandes’ bill has yet to be referred to committees.

Under both bills, the “certificate of need” would be repealed for hospitals only. Current law requires health care providers to have a “certificate of need” before building or converting hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.

The regulation was initially created in 1973 by the federal government as a method to control costs and it was repealed at the federal level in 1987. Several states have maintained some form of it, including Florida.

Florida could soon implement pre-arrest diversion programs statewide

A pair of criminal justice reform proposals are laying out an ambitious plan that could reduce crime and incarceration rates in Florida by implementing pre-arrest diversion programs statewide.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, filed a bill on Thursday that would direct all judicial circuits in the state to create and implement both an adult and juvenile civil citation programs.

The program would give an opportunity to offenders who commit minor crimes, such as petty theft or marijuana possession, to report to the program, which aims to give individuals who qualify community service hours instead of jail time. Brandes says the move will “free up the court system to deal with more serious offenses” and will give individuals the chance to face “appropriate sanctions” for their crimes.

“Allowing civil citations for minor offenses committed by juveniles and adults has proven to be an effective tool for law enforcement by modifying the behavior of cited individuals without the scarlet letter of an arrest,” Brandes said.

If a person does not complete the program, the bill states the case would go back to the law enforcement agency that made the arrest to determine if there is good cause to recommend charges for the misdemeanor offense. The case would be referred to the state attorney.

An adult pre-arrest diversion program introduced last year in Pinellas County, which Brandes represents, could act as a model for what may be ahead for municipalities across the state.

“This bill enhances this tool, requiring all judicial circuits implement a civil citation program, while maintaining the flexibility of local control and officer discretion,” Brandes said.

Under the Senate bill, programs such as the ones implemented in Pinellas County would not go away. But if a program does not meet the criteria established by the circuit, it would need to be adjusted.

State Rep. Larry Ahern, a Seminole Republican, is expected to file a similar companion bill in the House.

Bill seeks to prevent driver’s license suspensions in non-driving offenses

No one should lose their driver’s license over an infraction that isn’t related to driving.

That’s the premise of a bill (SB 1270) filed Friday by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.

“It is time to address the growing problem of non-driving related license suspensions,” Brandes said in a press release announcing the bill. “Stop the madness and quit taking away people’s driver’s licenses for unrelated offenses, especially failing to pay fines and fees.”

The bill would prohibit suspending someone’s driver’s license for various offenses unrelated to driving – except for failing to pay child support.

The legislation also helps solidify the right of a defendant in financial hardship to instead use community service as a form of payment for fees and fines. Individuals who have their licenses suspended due to financial reasons would instead be issued a “hardship license.”

Currently, someone who has been caught driving on a suspended license three or more times is given a felony. Brandes’ bill would prevent such action in instances when the driver had their license suspended for financial hardship.

“A relatively minor offense puts someone into the system where they may spiral downward and lose their job or end up serving prison time because they have to choose between driving to work and driving with a suspended license,” Brandes said.

The 2018 Session, which starts Jan. 9, marks the third time Brandes has tried to limit non-driving related license suspensions. Brandes’ bill last year died in Senate Appropriations.

Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, also of St. Petersburg, co-sponsored the legislation last year. Brandes notes that Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube and Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young have also been supportive of previous measures.

Jeff Brandes wants privacy protection for Echo, Google Home

It’s time to deal with privacy in the age of Alexa, Sen. Jeff Brandes says.

The St. Petersburg Republican has filed legislation (SB 1256) to protect the expectation of privacy in the use of cell phones and other microphone-enabled household devices.

The surge in sales of “smart speakers” like Amazon’s Echo, with its “Alexa” cloud-based voice service, and Google Home has caused some civil libertarians to express privacy concerns.

Brandes’ measure requires law enforcement to get a warrant before searching communications and location data contained in such devices.

“As technology continues to become more integrated in our daily lives, it is critical that the law recognize that electronic devices are the modern day equivalent of papers and effects, falling under the protections of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution,” Brandes said in a statement.

“It is my hope that this collaborative effort will accomplish my goal of bringing us into this day and age technologically without compromising law enforcement’s ability to provide public safety.”

Dan Olds, an analyst with technology analysis firm OrionX, told last year that “there are plenty of privacy issues with this type of always-listening technology.”

“It’s obvious that any device that is always listening could also be always storing and always analyzing anything that is within earshot of the receiver,” he said.

“It could give Google a hell of a lot more personal data about users than they get now,” Olds said referring to Google Home, which was introduced a little over a year ago.

Google’s support page for the device, however, says it isn’t recording all of its owners’ conversations. 

“When Google Home detects that you’ve said ‘OK Google’ or that you’ve physically long-pressed the top of your Google Home device, the LEDs on top of the device light up to tell you that recording is happening, Google Home records what you say, and sends that recording … to Google in order to fulfill your request,” it says. “You can delete those recordings anytime.”

Brandes says he sought advice from industry experts and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement prior to filing the bill to ensure that privacy is maintained and to provide clarity as to how law enforcement may access these devices.

He says his legislation makes clear that collection by law enforcement of an individual’s location, a cell phone, or a home enabled device, without the consent of the person or owner of the devices, should be allowed only when authorized by a warrant, unless certain exigent circumstances exist.

Women’s March national co-chair backs Ahmad Saadaldin for HD 58

Linda Sarsour, national co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March, has endorsed Ahmad Saadaldin in the House District 58 race in Hillsborough County taking place Dec. 19.

“Temple Terrace Seffner Plant City Thonotosassa LISTEN UP. VOTE for Hussam Ahmad for State House,” Sarsour wrote on her Facebook page Tuesday.

“There are only 5 days left of voting. If he wins, he will be the first independent candidate elected to Florida House of Representatives in history. He would also be the first Muslim. It’s a special election. He only needs 4,509 votes to win. He is bold, committed and has the most energetic campaign with 160 volunteers. Do what you can!”‘


Saaldaldin is one of four candidates in the race, and as Sarsour notes, an independent one at that. Officially he is non-party-affiliated, though he is very much in sync with the Green Party, who endorsed him in October and has contributed $200 to his campaign.

Republican Lawrence McClure, Democrat Jose Vazquez and Libertarian Bryan Zemina are the other three candidates on the ballot.

Sarsour is a prominent advocate for Muslim Americans, criminal justice reform and civil rights, and is the former executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. Her public profile became greater after her participation in last January’s march.

She’s also raised the hackles of conservatives who have accused her of supporting terrorists and promoting anti-Semitism, largely due to her support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and her criticism of Israel. BDS is an international economic movement designed to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian territories.

The 27-year-old Saaldaldin served as president for Students for Justice in Palestine and led the on-campus BDS campaign in 2014.

In an interview with Florida Politics earlier this year, Saaldaldin said he has been called a terrorist and anti-Semitic because of his involvement with the BDS movement, and strongly denied those allegations.

“It’s just the nature of the field of work that I’m in, and there are people who are passionate about the state of Israel, and I understand that,” he said. “I’m very critical of the state of Israel, and  I believe the Palestinian people are really suffering under the occupation.”

Florida is one of 23 states that has enacted legislation barring contracts with companies that participate in the BDS movement. Brevard County Republican Rep. Randy Fine and St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes have filed bills in the Legislature that would bar cities from doing business with companies supporting the BDS movement.

Saaldaldin is the most progressive candidate in the race, supporting a $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform and affordable housing policies.

Saaldaldin has raised $11,659 in the race, the second most in the four-man field, but is nowhere near the $147,985 that McClure has taken through Nov. 6.

Zemina raised $7,322, and Vazquez just $1,907.

Bill to review government efficiency sails through committee

Legislation providing for a review of efficiency in government procurement is making its way through the Legislature.

St. Petersburg Republican Jeff BrandesSB 368 cleared the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government Thursday with a unanimous and undebated yes vote.

Brandes’ bill — which is accompanied in the House by Wauchula Republican Rep. Ben Albritton’s similar HB 111 — would create a task force within the Department of Management Services for the “purpose of evaluating the effectiveness and value of state and local procurement laws and policies to the taxpayers in this state and determining where inconsistencies in such laws and policies exist.”

The secretary of DMS, currently Erin Rock, would be given the option to appoint someone to chair the task force or chair it themselves. Gov. Rick Scott would be given seven appointments. The Senate President and Speaker would be given two each, consisting of a member of their respective chambers and a lawyer proficient in procurement law.

The task force would be finalized by the end of July and dissolved by Dec. 31, 2019.

The legislation specifies that members of the task force will not be paid for their work.

A comparable bill from Brandes died last year in its last committee of reference, but Brandes expects it to have widespread support this Session.

Brandes’ St. Petersburg colleague, Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, has co-sponsored the bill.

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