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Relief for drug-possession mandatory minimums on glide path to Senate floor

The House legislation will be a heavier lift.

In one of several criminal justice reforms being pushed for 2020, a bill relaxing some mandatory minimums cleared its second Senate committee Wednesday with unanimous support.

SB 346, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, would increase judicial discretion in sentencing nonviolent offenders in their first drug possession conviction.

The Senator placed the bill in the context of other reform proposals.

“Sentencing reform … has proved elusive in our state thus far,” he said.

“The right thing to do from both a human standpoint and a financial standpoint,” Bradley said. “It will probably make us safer.”

The bill has cleared two committees, and only the Bradley chaired Appropriations Committee is left before a floor vote.

Under the proposal, those convicted for the first time of buying or possessing less than two grams of any narcotic, but fentanyl would not have to serve more than a year in jail.

“If you’re sentenced for more than twelve months,” Bradley said, “you go to state prison.”

The Senator suggested that some sentences are padded, so convicts become the state’s expense and not that of the county.

“Somewhere along the way, we started sending folks we were mad at to state prison,” he added.

The bill also permits for interrogations to be recorded, and makes provisions to compensate those who were wrongfully incarcerated.

Dozens of speakers, representing organizations ranging from the left-wing New Florida Majority to Americans for Prosperity, offered support also.

The Rep. Alex Andrade House bill (which covers similar ground) has yet to get a hearing, suggesting that even if the Senate passes Bradley’s bill early, its ultimate fate may be uncertain until March.

On specific issues, including retroactivity and a provision to bring in sentencing for small-scale pill possession, Bradley is open to changes in the language.

Legislators will review many proposals designed to remedy the overburdened hellscapes that are Florida prisons.

Gov. Ron DeSantis spotlighted increased DOC spending when rolling out his budget proposal last month.

Among the high points: $60.6 million for retention incentives; $29.1M for a pilot program for 8.5-hour shifts; $2.2 million for sergeants to combat gang activity; $3 million for security enhancement equipment.

As well, in light of a rampant health crisis in facilities: $17.1 million for health services, $11.6 million of which will go to a new mental health facility in Lake County.

Also on the table, but potentially tougher to achieve: proposals for “gain time” surfacing again from Democrats in the Legislature, which would make first-time nonviolent offenders eligible for parole after serving 65% of their sentences.

Additionally, Sen. Jeff Brandes has several proposals.

Among them: revised thresholds for sentencing points; better end-of-life treatment for dying inmates; diversion from state prison; and a renewed consideration of mitigating standards.

While momentum for some of these will build, it looks like reform of mandatory minimums will be the first big move in criminal justice from the Senate in January.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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