Senate poised to pass sentencing reform legislation

Bradley says it would be the most meaningful sentencing reform since the late '90's.

The Senate is poised legislation that would allow judges more discretion in sentencing defendants for certain drug-trafficking offenses.

The bill (SB 346), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, underwent significant revisions that would make many defendants ineligible for the departure from mandatory minimum sentences. Bradley says he introduced the amendments after conversations with fellow senators, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office.

The changes included a tweak that would give the state an opportunity to make sentencing recommendations in certain drug-trafficking cases before judges decide to depart from mandatory-minimum guidelines. Another change would reduce the amount of drugs that would allow defendants to get shorter sentences.

The original version of the proposal would have set a maximum incarceration time of 12 months for people who buy or possess less than two grams of a controlled substance, other than fentanyl. Wednesday’s revision lowered the purchasing and possession quantities to one gram or less of a controlled substance, a move that will “closely mirror federal personal-use amounts,” Bradley said. 

Bradley maintains it’s still a meaningful criminal justice reform bill.

“It’s been amended, as all these things do as they go through the process,” he said. “But if this bill holds then we will add the most meaningful sentencing reform since the laws were changed in the late 90’s.”

Senate President Bill Galvano told reporters on Wednesday he believes Bradley’s sentencing changes are important.

“I trust that what he’s doing with that bill is going to give it the best opportunity to pass … and to continue to help us make improvements in the criminal justice system,” he said. 

Bradley, the Senate budget chief, said he has not yet started to negotiate the issue with the House, which does not have a companion bill. 

He says he believes the prosecutors who oppose the legislation want to retain their power in the courtroom. He argues judges, who must remain neutral, can’t advocate for policies.

“It’s incumbent on those of us who care about the judicial system that (it) has some balance to be a voice for what I think would be a counterbalance if they (judges) were be allowed to speak,” Bradley said. “I think if judges came forward and spoke like you see prosecutors coming forward and speaking at committees, you would get a very different picture of the matter.”

The Senate has placed the bill on third reading.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected].


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