House votes to increase penalties on ‘traveling criminals’

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Some lawmakers want to reclassify crimes committed by people who intentionally cross county lines to do it.

The House has passed a proposal to dissuade thieves from venturing away from their hometowns to commit crimes.

The bill (HB 279), filed by Stuart Republican Rep. John Snyder, would increase the offense level for committing grand theft if the offender commits the crime outside their home county with the intent to evade police who may be familiar with the offender, subjecting them to possibly increased prison time.

The House passed the measure 100-7 Wednesday with only Democrats voting in opposition.

Florida breaks down felony offenses into 10 severity levels, with 10 being the most severe on the state’s criminal sentencing scoresheet used to determine what punishment and for how long a person could face for their crimes.

State law already allows up-scaling burglary charges for what Snyder called “traveling criminals” during discussions about the bill Tuesday.

“As we sit here today doing the work of the people, there are individuals getting in their vehicles, getting onto the interstate and the Turnpike to leave their local communities where they are often known by law enforcement to move around the state looking for homes, cars and businesses to break into and guns and valuables to steal,” Snyder said.

Judges would have greater discretion when sentencing offenders under the bill, and people whose charges have been reclassified because of the law could not be released on bail until their first court date.

“This bill will provide a much-needed tool to law enforcement, state attorneys and judges, enabling the system to adequately confront this serious public threat,” Snyder said.

Additionally, the bill would increase penalties on burglaries committed on fire or police department properties.

Before the vote on Wednesday, West Palm Beach Rep. Omari Hardy shared the story of one of his former middle school students who crossed county lines into Martin County and together with a group of friends got in trouble with the law.

“I just wish that we could find a better way to deter folks from engaging in the activities there,” Hardy said.

But Snyder told the House he believes a person’s circumstances don’t justify their actions. Additionally, he called it a statewide problem, not just a problem between his Martin County and Hardy’s Palm Beach County.

“When we have individuals that leave their communities to roam around the state preying on vulnerable communities. That is a serious problem,” Snyder said.

However, the bill may have missed its window to pass the Senate. The companion measure (SB 1354), carried by Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley, awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Chairman Jeff Brandes says likely won’t meet again this Session.

If the bill becomes law, it would take effect in October.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.



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