Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a measure aimed at cracking down on retail theft, set to take effect this October.
The bill (SB 1534) stiffens penalties against thieves who steal multiple items from multiple stores in a short period. Although the Senate passed the proposal unanimously, most House Democrats opposed the bill in an 80-36 vote.
Bradenton Republican Sen. Jim Boyd and Newberry Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons sponsored the legislation following a rise of organized retail theft across the country last year. A study from the National Retail Federation shows 69% of retailers have seen increased organized crime within the last year.
In December, Florida made national news when more than $1 million in goods were stolen from a small business in Palm Beach.
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. Meanwhile, the theft of 20 or more items would be a second-degree felony.
Additionally, stealing more than $750 of merchandise from one or more stores within 30 days would be a third-degree felony, and stealing $3,000 or more would constitute a second-degree felony.
Businesses would need to tabulate their losses within those 30 days.
Despite some bipartisan support, House Democrats shared concerns that the legislation would have unintended consequences. Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis said during the House debate that the measure would “only penalize poor people,” and St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby noted state estimates show it would increase the prison population.
Members on both sides of the bill reference that the bill would apply to people stealing candy bars and other low-dollar items. Critics argued the penalties are too steep for small items, while proponents argued stealing is bad.
While Clemons said the bill is intended to curb organized crime, the bill would also apply to independent actors.
Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office is a large supporter of the bill.
“(Thank you), Sen. (Jim Boyd) and Rep. (Chuck Clemons), for your hard work on this important bill, which will help us stop organized retail theft and build a (stronger, safer Florida),” Moody tweeted after the passage.
United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade also applauded the passage of the legislation.
“We applaud Attorney General Moody, Sen. Boyd and Rep. Clemmons for moving this important public safety legislation forward,” said USA-IT spokesman and former director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Matt Albence. “States across the country are taking positive steps, equipping police and prosecutors with these new tools. Through cooperative, cross-sector efforts, we can all work together to stop Organized Retail Crime that is hurting our economy, endangering our citizens and providing a revenue stream for criminal organizations.”
Renzo Downy contributed to this report.