Reversing course from the past three years, the Florida House on Monday passed a criminal-justice package that would reduce punishment for some non-violent offenders and raise the legal threshold for felony theft charges.
Under the House measure (HB 7125), the state would increase the felony-theft threshold from $300 to $1,000, a proposal that has received pushback from powerful retailers over the years.
The move would make it the first time since 1986 that Florida has changed its felony theft amount.
“We all know theft is wrong — we all know this,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican who for the past two years has tried to raise the threshold amount. “The question is, at what point are you going to be branded a felon for the rest of your life?”
He added, “Because once you are a felon, there’s no coming back from that.”
The package, sponsored by Judiciary Chairman Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, deals with a wide range of issues, from repealing mandatory minimum sentences for selling horse meat to broadening eligibility requirements for people who want to seal their criminal records if cases resulted in dismissal or acquittal.
“This legislation provides a framework that preserves our fifty year low crime rate, but also takes a new approach to low level, non-violent offenders.” Renner said after the bill passed 112-1.
“Florida’s prison and sentencing system is long overdue for such reforms, and we believe that initiatives such as reducing barriers to occupational licensing and employment assistance for those with a criminal record will not only allow for meaningful employment opportunities, but also reduce recidivism.”
The House vote was met with praise by the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a national group that advocates for criminal justice reforms.
“Florida is in the midst of passing one of the most significant pieces of justice reform in the state’s past 20 years, the result of House leadership’s historic partnership with crime victims to advance a safety and justice agenda,” said Robert Rooks, vice president of the alliance.
“By passing these reforms with crime survivors, Chairman Renner and House leadership ensured that Florida will stop cycles of crime, help victims heal and create safer communities.”
Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice also lauded the move, with Tallahassee Chapter Co-Coordinator Agnes Furey saying “We are thankful Chairman Renner and House leadership worked with crime victims to drive a shared safety agenda to achieve these impactful justice reforms.
“By adopting survivors’ proposals in unprecedented comprehensive criminal justice reform, the House has ensured safer communities in Florida.”
The bill now will go to the Senate, where a similar proposal (SB 642) has been on hold during the past week. Among other things, the Senate proposal would increase the felony-theft threshold to $750.
Later Monday afternoon, Senate President Bill Galvano said he wasn’t in favor of upping the felony-theft threshold to $1,000, preferring to stick to the Senate’s number.
Gainesville correspondent Drew Wilson contributed to this post.