Meralyn Kirkland and her 6-year-old granddaughter Kaia Rolle drove four hours to Tallahassee and sat through the five-hour Senate Appropriations Committee waiting to speak about legislation (SB 1308) that meant a lot to them. But the bill wasn’t heard.
She teared up as she sat outside the committee room with her granddaughter after the committee had ended.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” she said. “The bill is not just a bill that’s wanted. It’s a bill that’s needed.”
Last September, Orlando Police Officer Dennis Turner arrested Kaia at Lucious & Emma Nixon Academy charter school for misdemeanor battery after she threw a temper tantrum because she wasn’t allowed to wear sunglasses in her classroom. He also arrested another 6-year-old boy for misdemeanor battery. Turner has since been fired.
The body camera footage caused national outrage after it came to light last month. Florida has no law setting a minimum age for arrest. Orange County Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy planned to offer an amendment to Sen. Jeff Brandes’ legislation revamping sentencing for youthful offenders that would address that gap.
The amendment would prohibit law enforcement from arresting or charging a child younger than 10 years old with misdemeanor crimes that happened before they turned 10 — unless they are accused of committing a forcible felony such as murder, kidnapping or sexual battery.
Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley says he doesn’t know if they’ll meet again. That leaves the amendment and the bill on life support, if not dead. Brandes said the committee would bring the bill back, but Bradley said that’s the first he’s heard of that.
“I don’t know if we’re going to meet or not,” Bradley said. “I don’t think we are, but we may.”
Kirkland said when she talks to co-workers, friends and relatives, it’s clear the general public isn’t aware that there’s no minimum age for their children to be arrested.
“So when I speak to them about what happened to Kaia, there’s so many parents out there who are amazed, they’re flabbergasted. ‘So you mean my two-year-old can throw a bottle in a grocery store and it hits somebody and they could be arrested for misdemeanor battery?’”
Kirkland says that not only do parents have to protect kids from criminals, pedophiles and diseases, but now they have to worry about them “being criminals from the cradle.”
Bracy said he’s also disappointed the bill was not heard.
“I think Sen. Bradley has some issues with this bill,” he said. “That’s my guess why it wasn’t brought up. It rests on Sen. Bradley whether he has another meeting or not.”
He said there may be a way to add the amendment to Sen. Bradley’s criminal justice bill, which he believes will come back to the Senate from the House.
Kirkland says Kaia is healing from the trauma of being arrested. She’s in a new school. But she still worries about being arrested again or her friends being arrested.
“I really looked forward to telling her that there was now a law in place where she would not have to worry about herself or her friends being arrested,” she said. “So yeah, that was something I was looking forward to telling her.”
House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee says the body camera footage motivated him to try to prevent that happening to other children.
McGhee plans to offer an amendment to school safety legislation the House is expected to vote on Wednesday (HB 7065) on the floor to clarify the arrangements between schools and police departments and sheriff’s offices. His amendment would require written policies or procedures for arresting students 10 years old or younger to be included in agreements developed between schools and police departments or sheriff’s offices. The section of the bill would be named “The Kaia Rolle Act.”