Senate scraps criminal sentencing changes

Florida prison 2
Some major reforms are no longer in play.

The Senate is expected to move forward with a watered-down criminal justice reform package that will not include earlier ideas to get inmates out of prison earlier and provide more judicial discretion. 

Sen. Jeff Brandes said the Senate could vote on the House’s reform bill (HB 7125) on Wednesday after amending it. 

“It’s a very substantial criminal justice reform package; one of the largest we’ve seen in decades in the state of Florida,” Brandes told reporters after Tuesday’s floor session.

In an amendment filed Tuesday to the House bill, the St. Petersburg Republican excluded major reforms he ushered through Senate panels earlier this year. Brandes said he dropped some provisions as part of an agreement with the House.

Now, the legislation will no longer offer judges discretion in sentencing some criminals charged with drug crimes that carry mandatory minimums — something Brandes had wanted initially. 

It also ditches language that would have made some nonviolent offenders eligible to get out of prison earlier.

Currently, the state requires prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Brandes had initially sought to reduce that to 65 percent for a select group of inmates who decrease their sentences by achieving “gain time” through things like merit-based and educational programs. State economists figured that change could reduce the need for more than 9,000 prison beds and save the Department of Corrections $860 million over five years.

With Brandes’ amendment, the Senate plan also will no longer address retroactive sentencing. Senators had initially sought to make retroactive a 2016 change to a mandatory minimum for some instances of aggravated assault and attempted aggravated assault.

These developments signal that the closely watched criminal justice overhaul will look different from Brandes’ original legislation, known as the Florida First Step Act.

But Brandes said the bill still resembles a “first step” to reforming the state’s prison and justice systems.

“Anything that we can do to move this discussion forward is a win,” Brandes said.

The chambers are still at odds on an increase to the felony-theft threshold. The House plan would raise it from $300 to $1,000. The Senate still wants the new threshold to be $750.

Both chambers, however, have moved language that should reduce occupational licensing barriers for returning citizens and limit the number of offenses that result in a driver’s license suspension.

Under Brandes’ amendment, drivers who are caught without a license three or more times will no longer face a felony charge — unless they cause bodily injury, attempt to flee or are driving under the influence.

Danny McAuliffe

Danny McAuliffe is a Tallahassee correspondent for Florida Politics. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as the editor of the FSView & Florida Flambeau. He is a lifelong Floridian and indulges in swimming, hiking, running and memes when the news cycle permits. Reach him at [email protected]


  • Edward Freeman

    April 30, 2019 at 7:12 pm

    Why was the proposed re-institution on gain time dropped? The article indicates that Sen Brandes agreed to the change but seems to indicate that this stupid idea was born elsewhere. I know Sen Brandes is better than this. I’ve tried to figure it out but all I have to go on is that it was someone opposed to saving $860 million, so that could be almost any House Republican and some of the Senators. All told, this may indeed still be a “first step”, but it is an embarrassingly tiny step. Shame on the Florida Legislature, Shame on Florida.

    • Barry

      May 2, 2019 at 7:18 pm

      Agreed. Florida legislators should be, as my grandmother used to say, rode out of town on a rail. Foolish, spineless imbeciles that have made Florida the nation’s laughing stock. Disney characters could do better.

    • Katie

      May 3, 2019 at 10:56 am

      Governor DeSantis Was told by the Puppet master Mr.Money That none of it could fly.. is my speculation!! Tuesday there was a clip (don’t have it Handy) That DeSantis was not in favor of The 65%or the retroactive..

  • Joseph Dejoie III

    May 1, 2019 at 8:01 pm

    Why did he pull the Retroactive Sentences when 63% of the Florida Voters passed Amendment 11 that would allow for Retroactive Sentencing. I guess he got paid off by the Private Prison Corporations That Make 100’s Of Millions from Florida DOC.
    We “The Citizens Of Florida” will remember everyone of you “Spineless Payoffs Taking POS That Just Took A Great Big Shit On 63% OF THE VOICES OF FLORIDA VOTERS “

    • b

      May 3, 2019 at 4:27 pm

      Actually public employee unions could also have had substantial influence.

  • Eva cofer

    May 2, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    I feel that they need to change the laws to let out people who have done at least alot of there time i no that there are inmates in there for 25 years or longer that have jumped threw hoops trying to get out let them try

  • michelle hill

    May 3, 2019 at 4:11 pm

    This is so sick to keep these locked away for so long that only did a warning shot and never harmed anyone they are doing time under a old law they will do 15 years longer with the old law the new law is only 5 years for the same warning shot. We voted amendment 11 in for retroactive on the laws. The Senators decided they would not listen. You will hear us when We the people vote you off tour seat

Comments are closed.


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