Organized retail theft bill earns unanimous approval at second committee stop
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 11/30/21-Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, speaks during the Judiciary Committee meeting, Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

'We're taking this seriously and you will go to jail if you do it.'

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice approved a bill Tuesday that seeks to crack down on the uptick in “boosters” and organized crime rings stealing from retail stores.

The bill (SB 1534), carried by Bradenton Republican Sen. Jim Boyd, would increase penalties for those who steal multiple items from multiple stores in a short period of time. The legislation was cleared in a unanimous vote and is now headed to its final committee.

“I think we’ve all seen and heard and watched these kind of smash-and-grab trips that are going on across the country, and the impact that those have had on small business owners and others,” Boyd said when presenting the measure. “In Florida, we’re saying that’s not something we’re going to stand for.”

Individuals or groups would be subject to third-degree felonies for, within 30 days, committing five or more retail thefts and stealing 10 or more items from at least two different locations. Those who steal 20 or more items would see that bumped up to a second-degree felony.

Businesses would have to tabulate the cost of the stolen items within those 30 days.

In December, Florida made national news when more than $1 million in goods were stolen from a small business retail storefront in Palm Beach.

The bill garnered bipartisan support. Sen. Victor Torres, a Kissimmee Democrat, and Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, spoke in support of the legislation.

“I agree that we have an issue, especially in my district,” Pizzo said.

“Unfortunately, we need bills like this to discourage them from doing that,” Torres added. “I agree that we got to do something, we got to stop that because it increases, and then sometimes you might see shoppers get hurt along the way with this.”

Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley said lawmakers need to pass the bill because it will help teach young people early that they face consequences. Young people need to learn right and wrong, he added.

“In order for opportunity to exist for any of these individuals, you’ve got to have order, and chaos is the mother of all this disruption and dysfunction,” Baxley said. “I think it’s very important that we interrupt and intervene in these lives early so that they know you can’t do this. You cannot do this and disrupt society.”

In the legislation’s previous committee stop, Florida Retail Federation lobbyist Grace Lovett told the committee that organized retail crime is a multibillion-dollar problem, and costs are falling onto consumers. She cited a study that found 69% of retailers have seen increased organized crime within the last year.

“Florida leads the way in holding criminals accountable for their actions,” Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, said in a statement. “This legislation will protect Florida retail businesses from the rising impacts of organized retail theft. Thanks to the leadership of Attorney General Moody, Senator Jim Boyd and the Florida Legislature, prosecutors will have the tools they need to pursue cases and impose meaningful penalties upon those who prey upon Florida’s business community.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office is also supporting the bill.

“We need to send the message in Florida. I believe this does it — that we’re not tolerating that. We’re not going to stand for it. We’re taking this seriously and you will go to jail,” Boyd said. “You’re not going to get to take a bunch of stuff and never be pursued by law enforcement. We will pursue you in Florida. And we will penalize you for it.”

The measure next heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee before it is ready for the full Senate to consider it. The House version (HB 1511), carried by Newberry Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons, hasn’t yet been scheduled for a hearing in its two planned committees.

If approved, the increased penalties would take effect in October.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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