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Rep. Paul Renner on the House floor.

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Paul Renner talks Ron DeSantis, conservative reforms in criminal justice

Renner’s 2019, in many ways, is a preview of what his Speakership will look like.

Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican who helms the House Judiciary committee, is dealing with a new Governor like everyone else in the Legislature.

He notices key differences between the former and current chief executives.

“With Gov. Rick Scott,” Renner told us Friday, “there was a strong focus on jobs.”

“His top three priorities: jobs, jobs, jobs,” the Representative quipped.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, strikes Renner as somewhat more well-rounded, with definite inclinations into education and health care policy.

“Those of us in the House are excited about the Governor’s agenda,” said Renner, who is on track to be Speaker in 2022-24, and will be in a key liaison role with DeSantis.

Among some of the reformist moves lauded: DeSantis pardoning the Groveland Four, a move that Gov. Scott and the Cabinet never quite accomplished.

“Ron DeSantis acted on the pardon,” Renner said, “that the House voted on years before … It’s a different side of the Republican Party.”

And the implication is clear that it’s a side that needed to surface.

Renner described his relationship with the Governor’s staff as “excellent”: “I can’t understate how helpful that is,” Renner said. “Coming from [Congress], he understands that we’re all in this together.”

The harmony allows for what could be paths to criminal justice reform, including the House version of the Florida First Step Act (HB 7125).

Renner, a former Assistant State Attorney in the 4th Judicial Circuit, lauded reform measures in that, including occupational licensing help to allow former inmates transfer their skills to the civilian world, and a felony theft threshold increase that accords with inflation.

Another Renner bill (HB 5011) passed unanimously by the House would create one new county court judge each for Flagler County and Citrus County. It also would allow Supreme Court justices from outside Leon County offices in their home county.

‘Smart Justice’-style reforms take many forms: Another worth mentioning is HB 7109, the Criminal Justice Data Transparency bill.

Renner lauds this legislation, which is now on the Special Order calendar, as helping to see how sentencing actually works, especially regarding potential racial discrimination, over-sentencing, and under-sentencing.

Piloting now in Pinellas County, this program could be statewide.

Renner notes the importance of technology, more holistically, when assessing the evolution of Florida’s criminal justice approach.

Electronic monitoring of low-level criminals (such as those convicted of simple drug possession) who won’t harm the public, as they go through probation and community service, is key to the path forward.

“Making sure the punishment fits the crime” is key, Renner said.

The Palm Coast Republican also weighed in on the transition between former Attorney General Pam Bondi and her successor, Ashley Moody.

Thus far, Renner hasn’t noticed a “marked shift,” but did note Moody’s work to ensure that Amendment 11, passed in 2018, applied retroactively and could be a mechanism to reduce pre-existing sentences.

Renner’s 2019, in many ways, is a preview of what his Speakership will look like.

Philosophically conservative, yet pragmatic in policy and politics, he fits in well with the current vibe in legislative leadership.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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