The Florida Legislature begins meeting in regular session
Tuesday, March 5, 2013 in Tallahassee.
2012 LEGISLATIVE SESSION A SUCCESS FOR FLORIDA SHERIFFS
BY SARRAH CARROLL, FLORIDA SHERIFFS ASSOCIATION (FSA) DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS AND FRANK MESSERSMITH, FLORIDA SHERIFFS ASSOCIATION GOVERNMENT CONSULTANT
The Florida Legislature declared “Sine Die” on March 9, 2012. “Sine Die” means the final day, and after a 60-day legislative session, some advocates leave disheartened because their top priorities are over, while others are happy that their bills passed both houses and are awaiting the governor’s signature.
In this “process” you can’t always plan your road map to success, but the FSA legislative team, including sheriffs and their staffs who spent time in Tallahassee, made quite an impact in the halls of the Capitol.
FSA monitored more than 320 bills that had some impact on law enforcement, criminal procedure or Sheriffs’ Offices. The priority issues for 2012 were Secondary Metals, Casino Gambling and Internet Cafes, Personal Injury Protection (PIP), Florida Retirement System (FRS) and Zero Tolerance.
Following is the status of those priorities and other key issues.
SECONDARY METALS RECYCLING---PASSED
This legislation creates a regulatory framework for secondary metals recyclers that are similar to what is required for pawnshops and secondhand dealers. This legislation arose out of the need to combat metal thefts across our state and was supported by a coalition of groups including Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Recycling Association. Victims would come home to find the copper stolen out of their air conditioners. A thief could pawn this restricted metal for $50, but the cost for the homeowner to repair would be around $2,500. Thieves would also steal copper from churches and schools, manhole covers from roads, guardrails from highways and the list goes on. This legislation will deter thieves and will assist law enforcement in catching the criminals who continue to steal regulated metals.
This year, millions of dollars were spent on lobbyists trying to bring mega-casino gambling resorts into our state. A set of bills would have allowed for three casino destination resorts, with full gambling, existing in Florida. Parameters were once set to South Florida, but many other areas of the state began flirting with bringing a casino to your hometown.
The FSA voiced our opposition, citing increased crime and a lower quality of life for Floridians. The Senate bill passed one committee with an amendment that would have allowed slot machines in every county where a pari-mutuel exists AND permitted the regulation of Internet Cafes. The House bill was temporarily postponed after a heated debate in the first committee and on the last day that committees were allowed to meet by House rules. Neither bill passed, but we can be sure the issue will be around next year.
More than three pairs of legislation were filed to address Internet Cafes, but none passed both houses. Internet Cafes or “sweepstakes cafes” operate under the guise that the centers are running a continual sweepstake, but individuals are paid based on results from the electronic spinning wheels.
FSA supported the set of bills that would have prohibited Internet Cafes. FSA argued that these hubs are operating as illegal gambling establishments and Florida law needs to be updated to reflect changing technology and terminology for these gambling centers. The prohibition bill passed the House, but stalled in the Senate.
FSA opposed the other bills that allowed for the regulation of Internet Cafes. This bill was not heard in the House, but did pass one committee in the Senate. In the Senate, proponents of Internet Cafes attached the regulation bill onto the larger casino gambling bill as well.
PERSONAL INJURY PROTECTION---PASSED
Florida has four of the top 10 cities in the U.S. for PIP fraud: Orlando, Tampa, Hialeah and Miami. Investigations into PIP fraud require in-depth, undercover operations that delve deep into organized criminal circles. Staged automobile accidents with victims faking injuries seek medical “help” at clinics set up and designed to take the maximum insurance payout and distribute money to everyone involved. Changes adopted this legislative session will reduce the prices consumers pay for auto insurance by decreasing fraud.
FLORIDA RETIREMENT SYSTEM---FAILED
FSA sought changes to the Florida Retirement System that would have returned the length of service back to 25 years and the retirement age to 55 years for Special Risk Class employees. Special Risk Class includes law enforcement, correctional officers, firefighters and others who put their life on the line every day. This change in statute was not a new idea, but would have returned the retirement age and length of service for these employees as it was prior to major FRS changes made in 2011. This legislation moved forward in both Chambers, but did not pass, most likely due to financial impact.
This legislation sought to prohibit law enforcement from making arrests for certain misdemeanors and felonies that occur on school property. A law was passed two years ago that directed School Board officials to develop policies that would handle disciplinary issues within the school system, and not involve law enforcement.
This legislation was aimed at the school districts that “overuse” law enforcement for routine school disciplinary actions. However, FSA felt that this legislation went too far and that law enforcement officers needed to have the authority and discretion to make an arrest if a youthful offender broke the law. This bill passed the Senate, but was never heard in the House.
INMATE MEDICAL COSTS---FAILED
This legislation sought to cap the rates sheriffs pay for inmate medical costs when an inmate had to be taken to a hospital for procedures that could not be performed in the jail.
This measure would have saved taxpayers millions of dollars, as some hospitals refuse to negotiate with sheriff’s offices that are constitutionally required to pay for the inmate’s medical care. The bill passed the Senate, but was not heard in the House.
PRETRIAL SERVICE AGENCIES---FAILED
Legislation was filed that would have reduced the population eligible for pretrial services at the Department of Corrections level. This would have had a negative impact on the jails and probation offices at the local level. Neither bill was heard in either the House or Senate.
FELONS IN POSSESSION OF FIREARMS---PASSED
The Governor signed this bill that will put felons who continue to break the law behind bars for longer prison terms. The legislation increases the penalty for felons found in possession of firearms for a subsequent offense from three to 10 years.
TERM LIMITS FOR LOCAL OFFICERS---FAILED
Legislation was filed that would have restricted your ability to vote for your sheriff for more than two terms by imposing term limits on local elected officials: county commissioners and the Constitutional Officers, which are the Sheriffs, Tax Collectors, Property Appraisers, Supervisor of Elections and Clerks. It would have required a change in the Florida Constitution and then would have only been applicable to charter counties. Only 20 of 67 counties in Florida are charter counties, thereby creating a fragmented system.
TEXTING WHILE DRIVING---FAILED
The Senate moved legislation forward that would have prohibited texting while driving. The offense would have been a secondary offense, which means the driver could not be pulled over for texting while driving, but could have been cited for the act if stopped for another law violation. The Senate bill moved through most committees of reference, but the House failed to take any action on this legislation.
The legislation sought to increase the weights required to charge and convict someone for trafficking drugs; and the bill also required prosecutors to prove “intent,” which means the person with large amounts of drugs “intended” to sell, purchase, manufacture or deliver the substances (i.e. that they were not for personal use.)
This legislation would have drastically altered how law enforcement and prosecutors deal with drug traffickers, making it more difficult to prosecute these criminals who traffick illegal substances. An amendment was adopted in the Senate Committee that also decreased mandatory minimum sentences given to someone convicted of drug trafficking. Thus, the bill would require more drugs before a person could be sent to prison, and that person would go to prison for less time. This legislation moved through two committees in the Senate with strong opposition from the FSA, but was never heard in the House.
JOHN D. MECKLENBERG ACT, MURDER---PASSED
This bill, named after a Hernando deputy killed in the line of duty, expands first, second and third degree murder statutes to include a situation when a defendant kills someone while committing aggravated fleeing or eluding law enforcement officer.
It also provides for increased penalties for the defendant who murders or attempts to murder a correctional officer.
FSA would like to thank all who made the 2012 session a success for Floridians and law enforcement. We could not have done it without the support of our members and sheriff’s offices across the state.
To learn more about all the bills FSA followed during the 2012 session, please visit: www.flsheriffs.org/legislative/.
LEGISLATIVE LINGO---Temporarily Postpone---A motion made in the Committee or in the Chamber to temporarily defer consideration of a bill. “TP’ed” will often be used in place of the full phrase. Redistricting---A process that happens once every 10 years to redraw all of the legislative districts. The 2012 Session began in January in order to comply with the Redistricting requirements in the Constitution. The State House and Senate draw maps of the House, Senate and Congressional districts that reflect the most recent Census.