The Legislature has unanimously passed a bipartisan proposal to prevent excessive use of force by police officers, sending the measure to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
On Monday, the full House voted unanimously to pass the bill, carried by Reps. Cord Byrd, a Republican, and Fentrice Driskell, a Democrat. Ocoee Democratic Sen. Randolph Bracy presented it to the Rules Committee on Tuesday and again to the full Senate on Thursday.
“I just believe that we could continue to build upon this work here,” Bracy told Senators before asking Republicans for more legislative progress.
The bill includes several police reform proposals the Legislative Black Caucus, of which both Bracy and Driskell are members, presented ahead of Session.
The 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 George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, 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.
Amendments added Friday would clarify that law enforcement agencies could make more stringent policies, including banning chokeholds, if they choose.
Additionally, 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.
Only Black Democrats spoke in debate on the Senate floor. All of them considered the bill a starting point to improving policing in the future.
St. Petersburg Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson noted that Florida was praised in 2018 for passing “the nation’s most comprehensive criminal justice transparency bill.” However, the Department of Law Enforcement hasn’t released any of the data promised under that law.
“I say that to say that there may be some concern that this bill does not go far enough,” Rouson said.
Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson said the bill lays the foundation for self-accountability among law enforcement.
“When you know better, you do better, and when you have the training and you don’t do better, you don’t protect and serve, consequences should follow, and we will get there because it’s necessary,” she said.
However, she predicted pushback from the public.
“We’re going to hear it, I promise you. There’s not enough teeth, there’s no enforcement, there’s no this, there’s no that.”
The legislation also creates the “Kaia Rolle Act,” a multi-year project of Bracy’s to 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 the language died on the regular Session’s final day after the then-developing COVID-19 pandemic helped derail negotiations.
“Kaia Rolle has gone through a lot since her arrest, and while unfortunately we can’t erase that trauma, this bill sends a clear message that what happened to Kaia should never happen again in Florida,” Bracy said in a statement.
In a statement Thursday, Senate President Wilton Simpson thanked Bracy for his “diligent work” on the bill, which incorporates several senators’ proposals.
He called the measure a “strong, bipartisan package that reflects our commitment to improving and in many cases codifying existing policies that guide the actions of Florida’s brave law enforcement and correctional officers.”
“We stand by the dedicated members of law enforcement who put their lives on the line each and every day to protect our communities,” he continued. “There is nothing to lose and everything to gain from a good faith review of our policing policies, because we want to make sure every law enforcement officer has the resources and training to keep our communities safe.”
Bracy thanked Simpson for fast-tracking the bill.
“It means a lot to our community,” he said.
This month, lawmakers considered the anti-riot bill (HB 1), Republicans’ measure against violent protests that Democrats and other critics say will disproportionately affect minority protesters.
DeSantis signed that measure into law last week, the day before a Minnesota court convicted Derek Chauvin of killing Floyd when he knelt on his neck in May. That killing sparked protests, some of which turned violent, that prompted DeSantis to ask for legislation.
In an interview with Florida Politics, Byrd acknowledged the national conversation around law enforcement and freedom of speech. 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.”