A bill that would establish a minimum arrest age is having a much harder time in the House than its counterpart has in the Senate thus far.
By the end of a Thursday afternoon meeting, proposed committee substitute legislation sponsored by Rep. Patricia Williams was reported favorably by the Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee in a vote of 16-1, but not before pushback.
The bill (HB 303) is watered down from what Williams said she would prefer, but it still prohibits the arrest of children under the age of 7, unless the offense involves a forcible felony.
Williams said Speaker Chris Sprowls supports the legislation, but that didn’t stop the committee’s only no-vote, Rep. Spencer Roach, from questioning the legislation.
“How is the officer supposed to determine the age of a child in, sort of, the heat of the battle and know when they can or cannot act?” Roach asked. “My concern is that we’re putting law enforcement officers in a really untenable position.”
Williams said incidents should not get to that point.
“I think if you’re a trained officer, you’re trained to deescalate certain things, and if you can’t control a 6, 7, 8, 9, 10-year-old, I have questions about you being a police officer,” countered Williams.
A representative of Florida Smart Justice Alliance also opposed the bill.
Other Republicans echoed Roach’s concerns but still supported the measure.
“I agree with Rep. Roach’s concerns as I understand them,” Rep. Tommy Gregory said. “But I think that initial determination on the age of a child, 7 or under, we can trust them to make without putting much burden on them.”
Democrats treated the opposition as absurd.
“I cannot believe we’re having this conversation,” Rep. James Bush thundered. “To set some minds at ease that are concerned about somebody coming in with a weapon or a baseball bat or attacking somebody or whatever, they can still be arrested even if they’re 4,” Bush said, referring to the exception for a forcible felony.
“This is crazy honestly. We say that teenagers are not developed until they’re 25, and we’re talking about putting a 6-year-old in jail in handcuffs. What are we doing to our babies?” Rep. Dianne Hart said.
The bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.
Orlando Sen. Randolph Bracy is spearheading the Senate effort (SB 626). His bill easily passed its first Senate committee, Children, Families, and Elder Affairs. It’s now on the agenda next Tuesday in the Criminal Justice Committee.
Lack of a minimum age of arrest law in Florida was spotlighted after the arrest of 6-year-old Kaia Rolle at her Orlando school. After a temper tantrum Kaia was arrested, cuffed, placed alone in the back of an Orlando Police cruiser, then booked and fingerprinted.
Before the Session, Bracy held a press conference with Kaia and her grandmother, Meralyn Kirkland, who said Kaia suffers from PTSD since the incident.