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Byron Donalds wants grand theft laws loosened

Should stealing $300 still warrant a felony charge?

Stealing a new iPad mini will land you a grand theft charge in Florida, even though most states call that a misdemeanor.

But a new bill filed by state Rep. Byron Donalds could bring the threshold for a felony theft charge in line with other states.

“This threshold has not been changed in over 30 years,” the Naples Republican said. “A lot has changed since then, and it’s past time for Florida to make this crucial reform that will save taxpayers millions of dollars and make our criminal justice system more effective.”

The legislation (HB 589) raises the limit for a petit theft charge from $300 up to $1,000.

In terms of those Apple toys, stealing an iPad mini 4, a fancy device that starts at $399 and fits in a purse, nets a third-degree felony charge under existing law. Such a swipe will be considered a first-degree misdemeanor if Donalds’ bill becomes law.

Of course, snatching a nicer iPad Pro will still spark a grand theft charge.

The change will put Florida more in line with most other states.

A 2018 study by The Pew Charitable Trusts shows only one other state, New Jersey, implements a lower threshold than Florida for grand theft. There, the limit for petit theft remains at $200.

The national median, used in 21 states, is $1,000, the number Donalds wants for Florida. The threshold is higher than that in 16 states, with the highest in Texas at $2,500.

Florida hasn’t revised its theft law since 1986.

The Pew study noted inflation in that time effectively increased the penalty for stealing the same value goods.

A news release from Donalds’ team notes the last time Florida lawmakers reviewed its thresholds, “websites did not exist, VCRs cost $300, and Ronald Reagan was our president.”

Donalds’ bill also changes thresholds on petit theft offenses. For example, current law denoted thefts of property valued between $100 and $300 as a first-degree misdemeanor. Donalds’ bill will change that to between $500 and $1,000.

The legislation also removes juvenile offenses as priors for repeat offenders potentially facing felony charges for petit theft third offenses.

There’s also a few smaller tweaks to theft law in the bill, like removing automatic felony triggers for the theft of fire extinguishers and stop signs.

Donalds said the change in law will reduce recidivism and save the state millions in incarceration costs.

He’s worked with the Right on Crime campaign, which proposes a “conservative approach” to criminal justice reform. Companion legislation has been filed in the Senate by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas Republican.

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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