Criminal justice reform advocates have been pushing for scores of changes to Florida’s criminal code, and a bill that would grant many of them started moving in the House Tuesday.
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Renner, has put forward JDC 19-02.
“Florida can build upon our successes and reduce existing problems by focusing public policies on ending the cycle of crime and reducing recidivism,” Renner said. “We must maximize the use of our public safety investments on policies that are proven to make communities safer and our economy stronger.”
Among the many changes, the overhaul to Florida’s probation system looks to be the major takeaway.
If passed and signed, issuing violation of probation arrest warrants could become less common. Current law requires a re-arrest for simple infractions such as missing class. Many times the VOP results in a conviction for the crime that got someone on probation in the first place.
Instead of immediately being sent to prison, Florida judges would use “graduated sanctions” range from mandated drug treatment, to a temporary curfew or up to a few days in jail.
The bill would also make former convicts eligible for occupational licenses, which are required in fields such barbering and cosmetology, change juvenile justice policies to allow prosecutors to decide on a case-by-case basis whether minors should be charged in adult court, and raise the felony theft threshold from $300 to $1,000.
A Senate bill upping the felony theft threshold to $750 was greenlit by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice earlier Tuesday.
JDC 19-02 also shuts down one road that too often introduces Floridians into the criminal justice system: Driver license suspensions. Many offenses with no bearing on road safety impose a driver license suspension, but that will apply to fewer under Renner’s plan.
There are provisions to help crime victims, too. The state’s victim compensation program currently requires crime reports to be filed within 72 hours and sets the deadline to apply for victim compensation funds at 1 year. JDC 19-02 would extend those to 5 days and 5 years, respectively.
The bill, and Renner, a Palm Coast Republican in line to be House Speaker, received a standing ovation from two crime victim advocacy groups.
“I applaud Florida House leaders for putting forward solutions that shift Florida towards important safety solutions to improve the well-being of communities and crime survivors,” Alliance for Safety and Justice VP Robert Brooks said.
“Effective justice policies that prioritize prevention, rehabilitation, and workforce development, as well as access to services for crime victims are the key to making Florida communities healthier and safer. We look forward to supporting Chairman Renner in advancing important reforms through the legislative process.”
Agnes Furey, who leads the Tallahassee Chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, added that the bill includes “important reforms that would help stop cycles of crime by improving the probation system and removing obstacles that get people back to work.
“We also applaud the measure’s elimination of barriers for crime victims to access victim compensation, a priority of Florida crime survivors. We look forward to working with state leaders to pass important reforms that advance public safety in Florida.”
The proposed committee bill earned a unanimous vote from its 12 Republican and 6 Democratic members.