Miami-Dade-focused bill cementing Sheriff powers clears final Senate committee
Image via Wiki Commons.

Miami-Dade Police Wiki Commons 2
Miami-Dade has a troubled past with Sheriffs.

Miami-Dade County voters will elect their first Sheriff in more than half a century next year, and legislation aimed at ending debate over that office’s powers is now headed to the Senate floor.

The Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously to advance SB 1588, which would grant Sheriffs exclusive policing power over a county’s unincorporated area and shared jurisdiction in cities and special districts.

It also outlines the process for transfers of power from one elected Sheriff to another and authorizes State Attorneys to challenge reductions of municipal law enforcement agency operations of more than 5% per year.

Zephyrhills Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, the bill’s sponsor, explained those provisions follow through on a constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters — including 58% of Miami-Dade voters — in 2018. In accordance with that ballot question, the offices of Sheriff, Tax Collector, Property Appraiser, Clerk of Courts and Supervisor of Elections must all be elected positions by 2024.

SB 1588 and its identical House counterpart by Miami-Dade Republican Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin (HB 1595) are one of two couplets of bills meant to codify the 2018 referendum’s intention.

The other pair (SB 1490, HB 1373) by Fernandez-Barquin and Miami Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia, would bar counties from duplicating the powers of those constitutional offices and provides for legal action and withholding of state funds in cases where that prohibition is violated.

Miami-Dade, the only county in Florida without a Sheriff, eliminated the position 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.

Several people attended the committee meeting Wednesday to support SB 1588, including Miami-Dade Commissioner René García, Barney Bishop of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, legislative Chair of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, which in August sued Miami-Dade over the issue. A judge tossed the lawsuit in February, ruling that the court fight over police powers must wait until after the 2024 election.

Assistant State Attorney Jess McCarty, who lobbies on behalf of Miami-Dade in Tallahassee, waived in opposition.

While SB 1588 is now en route to the Senate floor, HB 1595 still has one more committee stop before advancing to similar consideration in the House. SB 1490 and HB 1373, meanwhile, both await hearings before the second of three committees to which they each were assigned.

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.

One comment

  • Miami resident

    April 24, 2023 at 8:58 am

    Good. It’s about time to fix the county. Local politicians grabbing money and letting criminals out free. Jail system is broken and the only punished are the working class.

Comments are closed.


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