A Senate committee OK’d a bill Monday that would broaden law enforcement’s ability to enhance charges against criminals who cross county lines to commit a burglary.
Under current state law, authorities may enhance burglary charges if the offender crossed county lines to commit the crime. The same law, however, requires a prosecutor to prove a burglar did so to thwart law enforcement and property recovery efforts.
Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell, the bill sponsor, contends criminals who travel to steal do so with the intent of evading law enforcement.
Authorities would no longer need to prove motive as a prerequisite to the criminal enhancement under the measure (SB 360). The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill without questions or debate on a 7-3 vote.
“In reality, what criminal, what burglar doesn’t do that with intent? They don’t want (someone) to find and track the stolen goods,” Harrell told committee members.
Harrell’s proposal revisits a bill lawmakers passed in 2014 in response to a wave of organized theft that originated in South Florida.
Dubbed as “felony lane gangs,” organized criminals found success at the time by targeting neighboring counties as a way to evade law enforcement.
Former Sen. Dwight Bullard spoke against the measure. He warned the measure would provide police more discretion and threatens to amplify alleged biases against communities of color.
“That I hope is not the goal of this body, but could be the unintended consequence of passing a bill like this in the current atmosphere that we’re in,” Bullard said.
Monday’s committee appearance marks the measure’s second committee-level passage. It will appear next before the Senate Rules Committee, its final committee stop.
Republican Rep. John Snyder is sponsoring the House companion. His bill (HB 6037) cleared the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee in October. It now awaits a look by the House Judiciary Committee.