Bill aimed at ending debate over Miami-Dade Sheriff powers advances
Image via Miami-Dade County Police Department.

Miami-Dade Police Department car -- MDPD
Miami-Dade voters eliminated the elected Sheriff role in the 1960s. A 2018 constitutional amendment is bringing it back next year.

Legislation defining Sheriff powers in Florida that would effectively end debate over the job in Miami-Dade — the only county without an elected Sheriff — is advancing through the Legislature with bipartisan support.

The Senate Community Affairs Committee voted unanimously for a bill (SB 1490) that would grant Sheriffs exclusive policing jurisdiction in a county’s unincorporated area. In cities and special districts, the Sheriff would share jurisdiction with local police agencies.

The bill and its companion in the House (HB 1373) by Miami-Dade Republican Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin are one of two sets of measures aimed at quashing resistance to changes coming to Miami-Dade next year.

In 2018, a supermajority of Florida voters, including  58% of Miami-Dade voters, approved a constitutional amendment to require that all Sheriffs, Tax Collectors, Property Appraisers, Clerks of Court and Supervisors of Election are elected positions by 2024.

That’s a major change for Miami-Dade, which for decades has been alone in having a Police Director rather than a Sheriff that, along with the Tax Collector and Supervisor of Elections, are appointed by the Mayor.

Miami-Dade voters eliminated the elected Sheriff job in the aftermath of a 1966 grand jury report that revealed the Dade County Sheriff’s Office was rife with corruption. Among other things, the panel found the Sheriff’s Office was protecting illegal gambling operations, taking bribes from brothels and extorting illegal abortion providers for protection.

Today county Mayor Daniella Levine Cava serves as the de facto Sheriff. She oversees a police force of some 4,700 employees, an annual budget of $815 million and an appointed Police Director, Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez III, who answers directly to her.

Miami-Dade’s unique home rule powers insulated it from legislative attempts to preempt it on the Sheriff issue, but the constitutional amendment voters OK’d more than four years ago upended the county’s longstanding policing arrangement.

Over the past few years as the 2024 deadline approached, the Miami-Dade Commission and Mayor Daniella Levine Cava have fought the change.

Levine Cava has said the recreated Miami-Dade Sheriff could have “very narrowly defined” powers. In June 2022, the Miami-Dade Commission voted 9-4 to allow the existing police force and future Sheriff’s Office to coexist, with the Mayor retaining authority over the unincorporated area and the Sheriff holding jurisdiction over the county’s 34 municipalities.

SB 1490 and HB 1373 are designed to partially quash any such consideration. Another couplet of bills (SB 1588, HB 1595) by Fernandez-Barquin and Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess would finish the job by prohibiting county governments from duplicating any power or authority exclusively allocated to a constitutional office.

Both of those measures cleared their first committee stops last week.

“The people clearly affirmed their intention to have these county officers be independent and answer directly to the voters,” said Miami Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia, who is sponsoring SB 1490. “This bill honors the will of the voters (and) prevents duplicative budgets, unnecessary taxation and, above all, prevents public safety conflicts.”

The Florida Tax Collectors Association, Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers, Florida Association of Property Appraisers, Palm Beach County Tax Collector and Florida Sheriff’s Association — which sued Miami-Dade last year over the issue — signaled support for the legislation.

A Judge tossed the lawsuit in May, ruling that the complaint must wait until after the 2024 election.

Jess McCarty, an Assistant County Attorney and lobbyist for Miami-Dade, was alone in opposing the change at the Wednesday committee meeting.

In a statement released this week, Fernandez-Barquin said his legislation will reinforce trust among Miami-Dade residents and keep any one elected office from holding too much power.

“These bills insulate the county constitutional officers by ensuring accountability, the division of government and responsibility, and a checks-and-balances approach to county government,” he said. “These critical bills will ensure transparency and minimize confusion of jurisdictional powers.”

Two people so far have filed to run for Miami-Dade Sheriff:  Ruamen Delarua and Rickey Mitchel.

SB 1490 must next clear the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee and Senate Rules Committee before going to a floor vote. HB 1373 still awaits a hearing before the first of three panels to which it was referred last month.

Both SB 1588 and HB 1595 advanced favorably through their first committees last week. SB 1588 has just one more stop, the Senate Rules Committee, before going to a full vote by the chamber. HB 1595 has two more stops before it reaches the House floor.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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