As Florida’s sheriffs gathered for their Legislative Summit in August 2021, there was continuous discussion surrounding two major priorities: hiring and retaining the nation’s best law enforcement officers and strengthening laws to protect Florida youths.
Sheriffs have continuously shown that they are a united front whose advocacy is critical to keep Floridians and visitors safe. After a Legislative Session where the House and Senate worked to make Florida the best state in the country for law enforcement, sheriffs were a major benefactor.
The Florida Sheriffs Association’s Legislative Chair, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, is one of the most respected subject matter experts in the Capitol — not only for his school safety expertise, as he is currently serving as Chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, but also for his vast knowledge of public safety and the law.
“I am thankful our statewide elected leaders recognize the unique position our Florida sheriffs hold in their communities as independently elected officials who are accountable to the public we serve and whose priority is to keep our communities safe,” Gualtieri said.
“Thanks to the leadership of Speaker Chris Sprowls and President Wilton Simpson, the legislation passed by both the House and Senate during the annual Legislative Session ensures that Florida stands as the most law enforcement friendly state and provides sheriffs with additional resources to make neighborhoods even safer.”
As you dig into the sheriffs’ priorities, it becomes clear why they have worked so hard on legislation such as HB 1, HB 3 and HB 7029.
According to a 2020 National Police Foundation report, 86% percent of law enforcement agencies nationwide are struggling to hire and retain officers and support staff, and if you ask around, Florida was also struggling to fill sworn and non-sworn positions, especially in fiscally constrained areas.
The passage of HB 3 will provide much needed support, including bonuses for recruitment and retention of deputies, and incentives could further improve if voters approve the additional homestead exemption lawmakers placed on the ballot by passing HB 1. Additionally, the 2022-23 budget directs $15 million to fiscally constrained sheriffs so they can provide deputies with competitive pay.
FSA Deputy Executive Director of Operation Matt Dunagan didn’t sleep much this Session, but he says that this year has been a great success.
“This year’s annual Legislative Session has been a win for Florida’s law enforcement community. On behalf of the Florida Sheriffs Association, we’d like to thank our elected leaders for working with our sheriffs to secure bonuses for the recruitment and retention of deputies,” he said.
“We are grateful to see additional incentives for existing law enforcement officers to call Florida home and look forward to seeing our state set a new standard of excellence in public safety.”
Sheriffs also scored a win with the passage of HB 7029, which provides judges the ability to keep at-risk youth in custody or electronically monitored beyond the three weeks after arrest.
The 21-day maximum was established more than 40 years ago, but today it takes about 100 days on average for a case to progress from arrest to trial.
In pushing for the change, sheriffs cited the recent shooting of a 16-year-old in the Tampa Bay area. The youth had been involved in a domestic dispute and fled from the police while armed with a gun. He later pointed his gun at a law enforcement officer, who was forced to shoot him — non-fatally.
The juvenile was charged with aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
However, current law does not allow a judge to keep the juvenile in pretrial detention for more than 21 days despite the seriousness of the charge and his extensive prior record.
Sheriffs say this and similar cases pose serious public safety risks in their communities and for juvenile offenders themselves — by not offering them protection and simply releasing them, they have an opportunity to commit new, more serious crimes.
If there was a critical public safety issue, the sheriffs were there to help both chambers not only make the state the friendliest place for law enforcement but to make our neighborhoods safer.
“During my 40-plus years in law enforcement, I have never been more proud of the actions my fellow sheriffs and our elected leaders have taken during the last 60 days to ensure Florida is best positioned to recruit and retain law enforcement,” said Levy County Sheriff and FSA President Bobby McCallum.
“Through the passage of House Bills 1, 3, and 7029, our sheriffs will have the needed resources and tools to further community safety and guarantee officers have the training and certifications for a successful career in law enforcement.”
The Florida Sheriffs Association is primarily represented by The Southern Group, with Mercer Fearington serving as their lead lobbyist. In addition, Liberty Partners’ Jennifer Green and Tim Parson as well as GrayRobinson’s Angela Drzewiecki support FSA’s legislative efforts throughout the year.