The Senate passed a bill Thursday cracking down on organized retail theft in Florida.
The bill (HB 1511) stiffens penalties against thieves who steal multiple items from multiple stores in a short period of time. The Senate passed the bill unanimously after a brief debate. Bradenton Republican Sen. Jim Boyd and Newberry Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons sponsored the proposal.
Under the measure, theft of 10 or more items from at least two different locations is deemed a third-degree felony if committed within 30 days. The theft of 20 or more items, meanwhile, would be a second-degree felony.
Businesses would need to tabulate their losses within those 30 days. The items must total more than $750.
“Men and women who put their life savings into stores and building their businesses are really loved and they’re being robbed because the thieves know they can’t be prosecuted,” Boyd said. “All we’re saying in this bill is that is not going to be tolerated in Florida.”
Organized retail theft is a national problem. In December, Florida garnered national news when more than $1 million in goods were stolen from a small business in Palm Beach.
“The criminal syndicates that perpetrate organized retail theft are often the same networks engaging in the drug trade, human trafficking, and other forms of illegal trade, like illicit tobacco and counterfeit products. They follow the money and are quick to seize any opportunity to make a profit — including leveraging the explosion of e-commerce to sell stolen goods on social media and online marketplaces,” argued Matt Albence, United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT) spokesman and former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Policymakers must also be agile and adapt their tactics, working alongside law enforcement and the private sector, to combat this threat. Failing to do so will allow these criminal networks to flourish, with the negative consequences being felt far beyond any individual victim or store front.”
The issue, though, is more than a few isolated incidents. A study shows 69% of retailers have seen increased organized crime within the last year.
“The increasingly risky environment has repercussions that extend well beyond a company’s bottom line into actual threats against employees and customers,” the National Retail Federation warned in the study.
Lawmakers, including St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, probed about the measure’s details before signing on. Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office is also supporting the bill.
“Thank you, Sen. Jim Boyd and the Florida Senate, for passing this important legislation that will help us better prosecute organized retail theft in our state — building a stronger (and) safer Florida,” Moody tweeted after the passage.
The bill now awaits House consideration. If approved, the increased penalties would take effect in October.