After leading the charge to oust Broward Sheriff Scott Israel in the wake of Florida’s worst school shooting, Republican state Rep. Bill Hager tried to gut funding from a program run by the Sheriff’s Office.
Hager oversees the House’s criminal justice budget, which gives him large sway over funding for law enforcement-related projects and issues. This year, that included an inmate re-entry program at the Broward Sheriff’s Office with an initial $521,000 price tag.
The Palm Beach County Republican was the first lawmaker to call for Israel’s suspension, citing the Sheriff’s “neglect of duty and incompetence” when responding to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in which a 19-year-old gunman shot down 17 people. Soon after, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and 73 other Republican House members followed suit and sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking to remove Israel from office.
Democrats quickly defended Israel, who is the top cop in a predominantly Democratic county. The clash set a partisan tone around the mass shooting involving a former troubled student armed with an AR-15 rifle, an assault-style weapon that Hager voted to ban along with Democrats in the House.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office program that was zeroed out by the House would fund salaries of those who help offenders with counseling, mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as assistance when trying to find a job or housing upon finishing their sentences.
“I don’t know if it is political or not, but if it is political I am not here to punish addicts for the actions of the sheriff in that county,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, who was tasked with negotiating the criminal justice budget with Hager.
The sheriff’s office last November requested a one-time $521,000 payment for the program, but on Wednesday when criminal justice budget talks started both the House and the Senate agreed on giving the department $200,000.
A day later things changed: the Senate kept its offer and the House removed all funding, bumping the item to the budget chairs.
Hager through his aide declined requests for comment on his reasons for cutting the program, but House Budget Chair Carlos Trujillo said that while he is not familiar with the issue, slashing a project is sometimes part of the budget process.
“Once we start trading priorities, 50 or 60 percent of the projects fall out,” Trujillo said.
Some Democrats, however, see it as a clear sign that GOP lawmakers are trying to attack a high-profile Democrat after staggering rounds of bad national headlines.
“If that’s the case, they should be ashamed of harming a county in their quest to publicly ruin one person,” state Rep. Evan Jenne.