Rep. Michele Rayner and Sen. Shevrin Jones have filed legislation to end qualified immunity for government employees.
Currently, qualified immunity shields government workers from being held personally liable in suits where they are accused of violating someone’s rights.
“We believe starting the conversation to put an end to the doctrine of qualified immunity is something that we in the state of Florida should start to look at,” Jones said.
While a person may pursue legal action against the governmental body for an employee’s actions, it is difficult to file a civil suit against an individual government employee.
Florida’s modern qualified immunity doctrine stems from a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case. Under the law, a case can only progress if a court can establish the government worker violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.
The bill specifies on what grounds qualified immunity cannot be used.
Under the bill, a person can be held liable if the court determines they were acting maliciously or in disregard for the victims’ rights, and if the agent’s actions deprived the individual of their constitutional rights.
Jones cited several events over the summer of 2020 that pushed him to file the bill, including the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Under qualified immunity, the individual officers involved are protected from civil suits.
“I think a lot of this is in response to the hideous, unjust acts of police misconduct, including the countless murders of individuals by the hands of police officers,” Jones said.
While Jones said some of his Republican colleagues disagree with the bill, he has found others that support the idea of ending qualified immunity.
“What we can agree on is that no one should be able to violate someone’s constitutional rights, and then get away with it because of this blanket of protection,” Jones said.