The House has passed legislation Gov. Ron DeSantis and lawmakers hope will enshrine Florida as the most “law enforcement friendly state,” bolstering officer recruitment and retention.
The bill (HB 3), passed 108-4, would provide recruits a bundle of perks. Among them is a one-time $5,000 bonus for first-time officers and a $1,000 reimbursement program for out-of-state officers who relocate to Florida. It would also bump the base pay for sheriff by $5,000.
DeSantis — an early 2024 presidential contender — floated the law enforcement recruitment package in September, decrying the “defund the police” movement.
Thousands of law officers have quit and agencies are struggling to recruit after the murder of George Floyd. Even among remaining officers, morale is low, according to a June survey by the Police Executive Research Forum.
The bill sponsor, Ormond Beach Republican Rep. Tom Leek, noted a vocal few have vilified law enforcement officers. He listed several incidents that occurred in the wake of Floyd’s murder.
Lego pulled some ads for police sets, internet users demanded PAW Patrol’s cancellation with calls to “euthanize the police dog,” and more. In Florida, a Flagler County Target store backed out of its annual “Shop with a Cop” holiday event with the county’s Sheriff’s Office.
“In Florida, we don’t cancel cops — not today, and not ever,” Leek said.
Rep. Geraldine Thompson, a Windermere Democrat who voted against the bill, said all members support the police. However, she said the measure includes some provisions that aren’t related to officer retention or recruitment, like a $25,000 benefit if a person in law enforcement adopts a child with special needs.
She noted the House voted earlier in the day to address fatherhood and responsible parenting in a bill that is a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls.
“Being a parent is one of the most important roles that any of us will have,” Thompson said. “If the motivation and the incentive to become a parent is a check, I am really concerned for the welfare of the child.”
In addition to the bonuses and reimbursement system, the bill also would create the Florida Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship Program. The scholarship would cover up to $1,000 of tuition, fees and other police academy-related expenses.
Additionally, the bill would provide private school scholarships to the children of police officers and allow schools to provide college credits to cops based on their training and experience. It would also implore school districts to create law enforcement explorer programs in schools and designate May 1 as “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day” on top of the already established “Law Enforcement Appreciation Month.”
There is no Senate version of the measure. However, Senate leadership plans to take up the bill and is likely to send it to the Senate Appropriations Committee for one hearing before it is prepared for the Senate floor.
Additionally, the Senate’s proposed budget contains that chamber’s spending priorities for law enforcement, including increasing the base pay for law enforcement officers.