Senate passes police recruitment package

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Lawmakers tacked on a last minute amendment giving sheriffs more control of county funds.

The Senate on Thursday passed a proposal designed to attract out-of-state cops and candidates into Florida’s law enforcement community.

A priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the bill would provide recruits and officers a bundle of perks. Among them, a one-time $5,000 bonus for newcomers and a $1,000 reimbursement program for out-of-state officers who relocate to Florida.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously in a 34-0 vote. Ormond Beach Republican Rep. Tom Leek is the bill sponsor.

Passage comes after lawmakers on Wednesday accepted a controversial amendment by Clearwater Republican Sen. Ed Hooper, which empowers sheriffs to adjust their budget without the blessing of county commissioners.

Passage, though, didn’t come easy. St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes led the fight against it, saying the amendment provides sheriffs unmatched, unchecked power.

“The challenge here is they can move money around without oversight, without budget approval,” Brandes said, who sponsored an alternative amendment. “They can buy 10 squad cars instead of hiring 10 officers, even if they told us they were going to hire 10 officers.”

Brandes found an ally in several Democratic lawmakers, including Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson. She feared the new power would lead to more distrust between police and minority communities.

The GOP-controlled chamber shrugged off the arguments. New Smyrna Beach Republican Sen. Tom Wright argued lawmakers should allow sheriffs to “do the job that we all elected them to do.”

“This boils down in my estimation to: Are you going to choose to stand with your sheriffs or not?” said Bartow Republican Sen. Ben Albritton. “I am going to stand with my sheriffs.”

The Florida Association of Counties stood alongside critics of the amendment. They and others point to a recent Florida Supreme Court case, which reaffirmed commissioners are in charge of the county’s purse.

In the case, the Florida high court sided with Alachua County after former Sheriff Sadie Darnell in 2017 transferred funds and spent money on raises for deputies, though commissioners appropriated the money for a separate use.

“The sheriffs somehow are now magical creatures that can move money wherever they want,” Brandes said on the floor.

DeSantis — a rumored 2024 presidential contender — unveiled the legislative idea in September amid a nationwide exodus of law enforcement officers.

The goal, he told reporters then, is to remove professional barriers and attract out-of-state officers into Florida.

The bill also calls for the creation of a police scholarship program. The Florida Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship would cover up to $1,000 of tuition, fees and other police academy-related expenses.

It further provides private school scholarships to the children of police officers and allows schools to provide college credits to cops based on their training and experience.

If signed into law, the measure would take effect July 1.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.


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