House passes Miami-Dade-inspired bill setting Sheriff jurisdiction, limiting city police defunding
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 2/10/23-Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami, speaks in favor of the the migrant relocation bill, Friday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Later in the Friday session Fernandez-Barquin’s bill authorizing the Office of Statewide Prosecution to investigate and prosecute election-related crimes was approved by the House. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

The legislation is aimed at Miami-Dade County, which will elect its first Sheriff in more than half a century next year.

A second bill designed to shut the door on any effort in Miami-Dade County to wrest policing powers from the county’s returning Sheriff passed on the House floor and is headed to the Legislature’s upper chamber.

The bill (HB 1595) by Republican Reps. Juan Fernandez-Barquin and Taylor Yarkosky 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% annually.

The measure passed 99-7.

“(This) measure … will protect public safety, which I believe is the most vital and important function we do as a government,” Yarkosky said.

While the bill applies to all 67 counties in Florida, it’s unmistakably aimed at Miami-Dade, which is alone in having a police director, appointed by the county Mayor, instead of a Sheriff.

Voters in Miami-Dade eliminated their Sheriff more than half a century ago after a 1966 grand jury report that revealed rampant racketeering and bribery, and the county’s unique home rule powers insulated it from legislative preemption on the matter.

That changed in 2018, when 58% of Miami-Dade voters joined a statewide supermajority in approving a constitutional amendment to require every Sheriff, Tax Collector, Property Appraiser, Clerk of Courts and Supervisor of Elections to be chosen by their electorates by 2024.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and members of the County Commission have since resisted the change, weighing different options, including having the Sheriff and police director operate in a concurrent, complementary arrangement.

To quash such discussion and ensure Sheriff powers, the Florida Sheriffs Association 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.

HB 1595 and its Senate companion (SB 1588) by Republican Sen. Danny Burgess are designed to end any such debate. A related measure (HB 1373, SB 1490), which would prohibit counties from duplicating the powers of constitutional officers, including Sheriffs, is also close to passage.

All seven “no” votes Friday came from Democrats. House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell and Reps. Angie Nixon, Michele Rayner-Goolsby and Felicia Robinson joined Reps. Christopher Benjamin and Ashley Gantt of Miami-Dade in voting against the measure.

None debated the bill or offered amendments on the House floor.

Another Miami-Dade Democrat, Kevin Chambliss of Homestead, spoke hopefully about the bill. Unincorporated neighborhoods make up 80% of Chambliss’ district.

“The relationship with law enforcement in our communities is very important, especially when we have communities that deal with things like gun violence and robberies, even situations where people are taking advantage of our seniors,” he said. “I’m very excited about the fact that we’ll be able to work hand-in-hand with that Sheriff to make sure we build relationships to address these issues.”

HB 1595 will now go to the Senate for consideration and a possible final vote. HB 1373, which the House approved Wednesday, is identically positioned.

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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