Bipartisan police reform bill fast-tracked to House floor
Cord Byrd. Image via Colin Hackley.

Lawmakers have been preparing a law enforcement reform package for months.

Over the course of one week, lawmakers have prepared a bill to prevent excessive use of force by police officers for consideration on the House floor.

Despite the quick turnaround on the legislation, which wasn’t submitted until Tuesday, the bill (HB 7051) is the product of months of negotiations between House leadership, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and stakeholders like law enforcement.

After a unanimous vote in the Appropriations Committee Friday, the bill is ready for consideration by the full House next week. The House Judiciary Committee also approved the language unanimously Thursday, which allowed the committee and Reps. Cord Byrd and Fentrice Driskell to formally file the legislation later that day.

Proponents say the bipartisan measure would help restore public trust in the police.

While the House considered the police reform bill this week, the Senate passed the anti-riot bill (HB 1), Republicans’ measure against violent protests that Democrats and other critics say would disproportionately affect minority protesters. Meanwhile, a Minnesota court is nearing the end of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd‘s neck before he died.

Byrd, the police reform bill’s primary sponsor, has been working on that legislation since civilians in Georgia fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was unarmed and on a jog, in February 2020.

In an interview with Florida Politics, Byrd acknowledged the national conversation around law enforcement and freedom of speech. The the anti-riot and policing bills’ overarching theme is “public safety,” the Neptune Beach Republican said.

“For those people who are exercising their First Amendment rights and those people who are engaging in criminal activities, we’re going to draw a bright line between those two,” Byrd added. “Part and parcel of that is how law enforcement acts and responds when they engage with citizens.”

The police reform bill would call for basic training on proportional use of force, including de-escalation techniques and intervening in another officer’s excessive use of force and chokeholds. Chokeholds, which became central to national conversations around the use of force after Floyd’s death, could only be used when an “officer perceives an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or another person,” the bill outlines.

Additionally, pending applicants for law enforcement and correctional officer positions would have to disclose any pending investigation against them and whether they resigned from their previous role during an investigation. Agencies would keep records on past officers for at least five years after the officer leaves the agency.

Each law enforcement agency must also, each quarter, report data on use of force that results in injury, death or discharge of a firearm.

The legislation also creates the “Kaia Rolle Act,” which would prevent children younger than 7 from being arrested or charged with crimes that aren’t forcible felonies. Both chambers passed similar legislation last year, but the broader school safety bill that contained that language died on the regular Session’s final day after the then-developing COVID-19 pandemic helped derail negotiations.

Aventura Democratic Rep. Joe Geller lauded Byrd and those who negotiated the bill for “doing something” despite Democrats’ desire that the bill go further.

“This is a compromise,” he said. “It’s not one step forward. It’s a number of steps forward.”

There is no direct companion measure on the Senate side. However, Senate President Wilton Simpson on Thursday told reporters he would reference that bill directly to one committee, as he did with the anti-riot bill. Senators have been working with the House on negotiating the policing deal, he added.

“I believe we will be very satisfied with the bill they send us,” Simpson said.

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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