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Jeff Brandes leading the way on criminal justice reform in 2020 Legislative Session

Brandes’ slew of bills would address prison population and sentencing guidelines.

Republican St. Pete Sen. Jeff Brandes continues to lead the way in legislative action to reform Florida’s criminal justice system.

In all, Brandes has sponsored 18 bills for the 2020 Legislative Session relating to criminal justice reform including reducing mandatory sentencing requirements, early prison release efforts for certain qualifying inmates and reforms to the juvenile justice system.

“We think these are areas where we have more competency in policymaking,” Brandes said of his slew of bills.

Among his efforts is a package of bills aimed at diverting more individuals from state prisons, a fight Brandes has been waging with bail bondsmen for years.

Two bills (SB 550 and SB 552) would change the state’s criminal points formulas to allow judges to have more discretion in how to sentence criminals and to carry out those sentences in non-state facilities like county jails.

Another (SB 554) would revise mitigating circumstances in cases to allow courts to impose the lowest possible sentence for that offense.

Another Brandes bill (SB 572) would allow certain prisoners to receive up to 20 days per month in gain-time to be used for early release. Non-violent felony offenders would still have to serve at least 65% of their sentence, under the bill.

Violent offenders would have to serve at least 85% of their sentence.

Some offenders would also be eligible for supervised community release one year before their tentative release date using control mechanisms such as electronic monitoring devices and community control.

Brandes also introduced legislation (SB 1308) that would allow people convicted of crimes when they were age 25 or younger to apply in some situations for sentence review to reduce their sentence or suspend it entirely.

That bill, dubbed “the Second Look Act,” applies to most offenders except those convicted of murder or conspiracy to commit murder or those sentenced to life in prison.

Another effort would allow dying inmates to carry out their final days at home with their families.

Taken as a whole, Brandes’ criminal justice reform efforts seek to give judges more flexibility in handing down sentences, prisoners more opportunities for release or conditional release, and in other legislative proposals, access to a better quality of care within the prison system.

“This is one of the most challenging areas of Florida policymaking,” Brandes said. “It’s not so much the partisanship issue. I think there is growing consensus that the current climate is unsustainable. We’re in a downward spiral in the Department of Corrections.”

Brandes is also continuing his focus this year on increasing access to technology, particularly as it relates to transportation.

One of Brandes’ biggest efforts this Session includes an electric vehicle bill (SB 1230) that would incorporate emerging technologies into the Florida Department of Transportation’s mission and establish a grant program to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations throughout the state.

“We are seeing one of the biggest shifts in decades,” Brandes said. “We need to be building infrastructure to support electric vehicles.”

A longtime ally for transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft, Brandes also filed a bill (SB 1352) that would allow companies to put digital advertising on top of cars operating under its platform.

On appropriations, Brandes is championing a request for $3 million to build two new collegiate high schools through St. Petersburg College — one at the downtown St. Pete campus and another at the school’s Seminole campus.

Collegiate high schools accept high school juniors and seniors and give them the option to complete their high school diploma while simultaneously earning enough credits to graduate with their associate’s degrees. The programs are an opportunity for students and families to reduce the cost burden of college by completing the first half of a bachelor’s degree program for free while still receiving a public education.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. William Freeman

    January 13, 2020 at 11:48 am

    Thanks you for your support with the Bill. I can understand that we need to change from the top to the bottom. So we need to also look on the training of Officer because the wat been trained is not for today inmates. Wfreeman240@gmail.com.

  2. Patricia

    January 13, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    Senator Brandes seemingly has a great vision for Florida! I am in full support of several of his Criminal Justice Reform bills as I began to follow him most recently and track them! This man is such an asset to Florida in many ways…and we are lucky to have him! The most recent bill filed 1/10/2020…SB 1716…awesome! Florida’s PRR Law is one of the most draconian laws in the state and with him in our corner..the SB 1308 and SB 1716…these passing along with several other of his CJR bills..would be an EPIC movement for the entire State of Florida. It’s so good to have a man in office who loves his state and who really cares to make a world of difference!

  3. Beth Cioffoletti

    January 14, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    When will these bills be introduced to the Florida Legislators and when will they be voted on? Who do we need to contact to garner support for them? How can we best support them and get them passed into Law??!!

  4. Caroline

    January 20, 2020 at 12:42 am

    My dear friend has served 20 years in Florida prisons, he deeply regrets his crimes at 23years old – a sick desperate addict – allegedly robbed a pharmacy for opiates wile armed, he allegedly grabbed a customer and demanded that the pharmacist give him pills. He took them and fled. (HE DID NOT HURT A SINGLE HUMAN BEING) He was caught and sentenced 2 LIFE SENTENCES PLUS 30 YEARS…. he was brought back to court and re-sentenced AGAIN now with the PRR DESIGNATION as a teenager he had other charges burglary & possession of cocaine. HE WAS YOUNG & DUMB!!! (With PRR he must serve the FULL sentences. He has served 20 years and will spend the rest of his life in there until he dies. He watches MURDERERS, RAPISTS, CHILD MOLESTERS, etc serve some time and get released!!!??? He has paid his debt to society, although what he needed 20 years ago was substance abuse treatment. He has been sober for 20years. He is currently awaiting news on his final appeal now in federal court. I believe he deserves a second chance; to be a son, husband, father & productive member of society.

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