Legislative Session Preview: Dan Daley prioritizes court reforms, Parkland-inspired safety

Dan Daley with Nikki Fried
As a Democrat in Florida, he knows he faces an uphill battle.

Last June marked a major shift for Coral Springs Rep. Dan Daley. After years of practicing law in the private sector, he decided to double down on his public service involvements by joining the Broward County State Attorney’s Office to work as a prosecutor.

It was an eye-opening experience, he said, and six months and seven jury trials later, he has a pair of bills he hopes will shore up some of the deficiencies he noticed in the courtroom.

Those measures, combined with others he believes could help to prevent another shooting like the one in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High (MSD), his alma mater, are his priorities for the upcoming Legislative Session.

As a Democrat, Daley knows he faces an uphill battle, but the holidays conditioned him for the challenge; he spent Christmas with loved ones at a farm they own outside DeLand that is home to one of Florida’s only remaining training centers for standardbred horses.

“I spent a couple days out there shoveling horse manure,” he said, “which is good preparation for Tallahassee.”

Daley’s first bill of note (HB 915), which he’s working on with Shalimar Republican Rep. Patt Maney, would empower judges to order defendants in misdemeanor cases to undergo up to six months of outpatient mental health services.

Florida law now only allows such involuntary, court-ordered treatment for felonies.

To qualify, the defendant would have to have been incarcerated or received institutionalized mental health services twice in the past 36 months. A doctor would also have to certify that the defendant, deemed incompetent to stand trial, would benefit from the treatment.

Daley said the measure would stop a revolving door in the court system where incompetent defendants suffering from mental illness or severe autism, among other things, end up having their cases dismissed, receive no treatment and go on to commit more crimes.

“Under current law, people are almost never restored to competency because you wouldn’t spend the kind of money it takes to send someone to get restored for a misdemeanor,” he said. “We just dismiss it outright, which is not good for society. The person goes back to their community and will likely reoffend, and you’re also not getting them treatment. You’re not addressing the red flags being raised, and we’re basically incentivizing people to commit a felony to get some level of treatment.”

Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman is carrying an identical companion (SB 960) in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

Another measure (HB 999) focuses on the mental health of jury members. It would create a post-trial counseling program in every state judicial circuit for jurors following cases in which “a reasonable person would likely experience trauma or distress due to the gravity of the offense or subject matter.”

Trials after which jurors would qualify for voluntary counseling would include those for murder, sexual offenses and the neglect, abuse or endangerment of minors. Jurors who opt into the program would be eligible to receive up to six free counseling sessions within half a year of the trial.

Daley said Miami Gardens Democrat Shevrin Jones, who is sponsoring a twin bill (SB 886) in the Senate, brought the idea to him.

“We always talk about the importance of jury service and how, short of military service, this is the highest way to serve your community, state and nation. We couldn’t seek justice without it,” Daley said. “But in some cases, these jurors are sitting in on grueling, gruesome cases. Even in the sentencing phase of the (MSD) trial, the jurors heard testimony after testimony and watched video after video of the massacre of 17 people. These people have stepped up, and we want to give them access to counseling services.”

Daley and Jones are teaming up on another pair of bills (HB 903, SB 992) to better prepare teachers for worst-case scenarios in the classroom. The legislation would require the inclusion of “strategies and practices on identifying, preventing, preparing, addressing, and responding to mass casualty incidents” in all teacher and education preparation, certification and training programs.

It’s an unfortunate necessity, but one that shouldn’t be ignored just because it’s an unpleasant subject, Daley said.

“We shouldn’t have to train our teachers in this,” he said. “But until we’re willing to have a serious conversation about the other causes of gun violence, this is a step in the right direction — making sure everybody has training and understands how to keep our kids safe if, God forbid, it ever becomes necessary.”

The measure draws inspiration from lessons now being taught at Indian River State College, where future teachers are learning to organize the layout of classrooms and watch for warning signs to prevent and mitigate the impact of school shootings.

“They partnered with local law enforcement to develop an entire program,” he said. “It could be as simple as teaching them how to arrange the desks and ensure there are hard corners in the classroom, how to notice if something is off and what to do in the event of a mass casualty incident.”

Jones, an education professional, said in a statement that keeping students safe is and should remain a top priority.

“While teachers receive on-the-job training, we want to make sure that those entering the career field have an in-depth understanding of how to prepare for, prevent, and if necessary, react to an active shooting situation,” he said.

Daley is also again sponsoring legislation (HB 145, HB 155) titled “Jaime’s Law,” after 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, one of the victims at MSD. Boca Raton Democrat Tina Polsky is sponsoring similar bills (SB 180, SB 182) in the Senate.

If passed — unlikely in the GOP-controlled Legislature, Daley acknowledged — the legislation would raise record-keeping, background-screening and tracking requirements for the sale of ammunition to the same level as gun sales and transfers.

“To the end of my days, I’m always going to sponsor ‘Jaime’s law,’” he said. “The Legislature has not seen fit to give it a hearing, but it’s an important bill and I’m going to continue to file it.”

The 2024 Legislative Session commences Jan. 9 and runs through March 8.

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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