Legislation cracking down on pandemic scams that passed the House unanimously earlier this month is finally moving in the Senate, having cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday with little evidence of controversy or opposition.
The bill (SB 1608), sponsored by President Pro Tempore Aaron Bean, would enhance penalties against phony COVID-19 vaccines and personal protective equipment and those malefactors who sell or misrepresent them on websites, in emails, and other forms of media.
The crimes would be classified as third degree felonies under the bill. Successive infractions, meanwhile, would constitute second degree felonies.
According to a committee bill analysis, people would get locked up were this to become law: “The Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) preliminarily estimates that the bill will have a ‘positive indeterminate’ prison bed impact (an unquantifiable increase in prison beds).”
Bean described exploitation of “fear and uncertainty” by bad actors in what was a brief and undramatic discussion of the proposal
Asked about the need for the legislation by Sen. Jason Pizzo, the South Florida Democrat chairing the committee, Bean noted dozens of complaints and more from around the country of people phonily promising legitimate supplies and vaccines.
“As of December 2020, the Better Business Bureau had received 96 complaints in Florida related to COVID-19 and promises made that were never delivered, and numerous others around the country of people that have scammed the government by promising … and not delivering,” Bean said.
The NAACP Florida Conference and League of Women Voters Florida had representation on hand in support of Bean’s bill.
The House version (HB 9), sponsored by Rep. Ardian Zika, was priority legislation of Speaker Chris Sprowls. It passed early in the Session.
However, the path in the Senate is somewhat more elongated. Both Judiciary and Rules are ahead before a floor vote.