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News from Tallahassee for 5/19/13
Juvenile Sentencing Bill Passes Senate Criminal Justice Committee posted on 4/10/13
by Lloyd Dunkelberger | Herald-Tribune
TALLAHASSEE | Juveniles could be sentenced to a maximum of 50 years in prison for non-murder crimes and a minimum of 50 years for murder under a bill approved by a Senate committee on Monday.
The bill is a response to U.S. Supreme Court decisions limiting life sentences for juveniles.
Defense lawyers and juvenile advocates called the limits "harsh" -- particularly the minimum-mandatory 50-year sentence for murder.
But the bill -- approved in a 4-2 vote by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee -- was supported by the state's prosecutors and by the Florida Sheriffs Association.
Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the measure (SB 1350) was designed to bring state law into line with high court rulings. One, in 2010, held life sentences without parole for juveniles who commit non-homicide crimes were unconstitutional, while another last summer limited the ability of states to impose life sentences for murders committed by juveniles.
Bradley, a former prosecutor, said the legislation "conforms our criminal statutes to the dictates" of the federal court rulings, while taking into account the "idea of deterrence" and being "mindful of the victims of crime."
Nancy Daniels, representing the Florida Public Defenders Association, said the defense lawyers "agree there is a gap in the law" that needs to be addressed. But she said the bill did not "comply with the spirit" of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings that established different sentencing standards for juveniles because they are not as intellectually or emotionally developed as adults.
by Sascha Cordner | WFSU
Florida lawmakers are looking to streamline the death penalty process to avoid the lengthy appeals they say are currently plaguing the system. Two measures aiming to do just that cleared another committee Thursday, and are one step closer to coming up for a vote by the full Legislature.
Most states in the nation impose the death penalty. Florida is one of them, but it’s also a state that’s known for its lengthy death penalty process. It’s behind only California, the state in the nation with the most number of people facing the death penalty.
Today, there are more than 400 death row inmates in Florida—nearly half have been on death row for more than 20 years. And, Republican Representative Matt Gaetz of Shalimar is the sponsor of a bill that aims to speed up that process.
“As a matter of fact, as just an example, the last person that the state of Florida executed went on a vengeful murderous rampage, killed nine people, stood up at trial, and said ‘I committed the murders, I did it, and I’d like to die.‘ And, it took 28 years to execute that person. So, I think that’s indicative of a blight on our legal system, and something that we ought to fix by having a more efficient system that protects due process,” said Gaetz.
His bill to cut down on the lengthy appeals process has several parts. It includes a provision that aims to cut down on “insincere” claims, like a death row inmate falsely claiming they have a conflict of interest with their attorney. Another type of appeal that Gaetz says contributes to delays in the process is from lawyers who say they were ineffective as counsel, and that a death row inmate now would have to get a new lawyer.
“In fact, if there is that determination, those folks would not be able to litigate those types of cases for a period of five years,” added Gaetz.
While the Florida Bar is not yet on the record whether it’s for or against the proposal, the Bar’s Steve Metz applauds Gaetz’ effort so far and his willingness to work with the courts.
“And, just a week ago, the Chief Justice formed a special five-member task force of the Criminal Rules Procedural Committee that is going to take all of these issues that Chairman Gaetz has brought to their attention and these are five judges that are real experts in these kinds of cases. And, they’re going to report to the Legislature in September of this year. And, Chairman Gaetz has been really very inclusive and we hope at the next committee stop, you’ll see an even better product,” said Metz.
But, Democratic Representative Darryl Rouson says he believes the proposal is a bit premature and should be put on hold.
In Game of Politics: My Halftime Report posted on 4/4/13
by Paula Dockery | Florida Voices
After 16 years in the Florida Legislature, I was looking forward to spending my first spring in as many years blissfully ignorant of the manic activity in our state’s capital. That was not to be.
In addition to media and speaking requests, I have been overwhelmed with pleas from former constituents and social media followers for information, advice and a sympathetic ear.
Truth be told, some people are just addicted to politics and I am one. Since I’ve been glued to the happenings in Tallahassee, I thought I might give a halftime report at this midpoint in the 60-day session.
Good Ideas Whose Time Has Come
Texting. More than a dozen legislators have attempted to enact laws to ban texting while driving over the past few years with little success. Floridians are clamoring for the ban in response to so many senseless and preventable deaths. Let’s hope this is the year we join the growing list of states that have this common-sense law.
Water. Florida has a unique ecosystem and can move between drought and flood conditions within a short period of time. We were well on our way to responsible water policy and funding to ensure a safe and adequate water supply. Unfortunately, over the past six years, legislators have reversed that progress and removed the funding. Adequate funding for water resources needs to be a top priority before irreparable harm is done to our environment, our agricultural interests and our quality of life.
Prisons. There are more than 100,000 adults in our state prisons (not including county jails, federal prisons or juvenile facilities) with an average annual cost of $20,000 per inmate. Some inmates are serving time for driving on suspended licenses when the underlying offense for the suspension was failure to pay a fee or fine, essentially creating debtors prisons at a huge cost to individuals, their families and Florida taxpayers.
Additionally, there are nonviolent offenders who are serving time for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Is it really worth $20,000 per year to incarcerate them? Or to house them with violent offenders so they can learn the tricks of the trade and graduate to more serious offenses?
Let’s apply common-sense policies to our criminal justice system and adopt the Smart Justice reforms that the Senate has passed but the House has refused.
Teachers, Other State Employees. Our teachers and other state employees have gone six years without raises and were required last year to start contributing 3 percent to their retirement fund. It is way past time to grant those raises...
Back to the Drawing Board
Ethics Reform. At the start of the session, legislative leaders claimed that ethics reform was a top priority. To date, watchdog groups and ethics commissioners have panned the reform bill as a mixed bag that “takes one step forward and two steps back.” Add some teeth to the legislation and serve up some real reform. Floridians deserve and should demand ethical behavior by those entrusted to represent their best interests and to responsibly spend their money.
Election Laws. Florida was the laughing stock of the nation after changes to our election laws caused us to report out our elections results days after the presidential election ended. The governor and legislative leaders were quick to promise to fix the problems created in part by shortening our early voting. However, to date the legislation falls short. We should encourage voter turnout and assist in making the election process convenient and efficient.
Internet Cafes. As a knee-jerk reaction after the arrests of some 50 individuals and the resignation of Florida’s lieutenant governor in the wake of the Allied Veterans investigation, legislators have quickly decided to ban all Internet cafes with little discussion of the option of regulating them, which could have prevented the abuses in the first place. Will this unfairly affect legitimate businesses?
In addition to banning all Internet cafes, the senior arcades are being banned as well, prompting Port St. Lucie seniors to pack a Senate committee meeting to plead for the exclusion of their social gathering places. A more balanced approach would punish those who operated illegally, regulate those who were good actors and wouldn’t lump Chuck E Cheeses, Senior Arcades, American Legion Bingo Halls and Family Fun Centers into this overreaching and reactionary response.
House Panel Debate About 'Smart Justice' Bill Turns Into Battle: Public Vs. Private posted on 3/21/13
by Sascha Cordner | WFSU
A Florida House panel has cleared a bill that seeks to keep non-violent offenders from re-offending and going back to prison. But, while most provisions had much approval, the discussion later devolved into a matter between public vs. private operation of the inmate re-entry facilities.
Making sure eligible nonviolent offenders do not go back to prison and are treated at a re-entry facility through the state’s drug treatment programs is the goal of the legislation. Convicts would get treatment while in prison and while on probation outside of prison. The bill’s House sponsor is Republican Representative Dennis Baxley in his capacity as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, the panel that vetted the bill Wednesday.
“This is designed to get those inmates that have not committed any violent offense, but have a substance abuse problem—the treatment they need for successful re-entry back into society,” said Baxley.
One provision in the bill allows for the state to provide identification cards for these inmates free of charge. Baxley says one of the biggest obstacles ex-inmates face is trying to get ID cards, upon their release from prison. So, he wants to provide a way to make it easier for these former offenders.
“An ID card is absolutely needed if they’re going to get a job, if they’re going to get a place to live, and if they’re going to successfully re-enter into society,” said Barney Bishop.
Bishop is with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance, an initiative that grew out of an idea by a number of business leaders to find cost-effective ways to improve public safety.
Later, after he started praising the bill, he brought up contrasts between the Department of Corrections and private providers, like Bridges of America, a group he’s associated with.
And, that caught the ear of Democratic Representative Elaine Schwartz of Hollywood.
“You brought up something that hasn’t been mentioned at all: the word private, which really indicates what’s happening here, I think, and so, am I correct in assuming this is in fact privatization," asked Schwartz.
“Representative, no it’s not! Because these programs already exist. And, any deep analysis of this bill would show you that there is no privatization here. There is no increase in privatization,” replied Bishop.
But, according to the Legislature’s analysis of the bill, it does allow the department to “establish incentives for the reentry program to promote participation by private sector employers within the program.”
And, a representative from Bridges of America, Jim DeBeaugrine, also testified before the committee, recommending that the re-entry services should be provided in a facility dedicated to that purpose.
“And, that is why we have proposed separately that you consider the Governor’s recommendations to reopen the reentry centers, those empty 400-bed facilities. There’s one in Gadsden County, Baker County, and South Miami-Dade. And, we will argue to the Appropriations Committee that one of those facilities should be operated by private providers who have direct experience doing this," DeBeaugrine.
But, Ron Silver with the Teamsters Union, a group that represents thousands of correctional officers, says he has a huge problem with that
“Let’s keep it within the Department of Corrections. Let’s give the Department of Corrections the resources to do the job because they’re the ones that are experts in our security situation. They’re trained in security. I don’t know what private corporations are trained in as far as security is concerned, but they don’t have the certification of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, like our Department of Corrections people do,” said Silver.
But, Republican Representative Marti Coley says she wants to get back to the true goal of the bill.
“I am excited to help these inmates be more prepared to re-enter society. I do not see this bill privatizing our prisons, and that’s what I feel like I heard today and that’s why I’m a little frustrated," said Coley.
Five things to look for in Monday’s legislative session posted on 3/18/13
by ROCHELLE KOFF | HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU
TALLAHASSEE -- The legislative week kicks off with some controversial issues including a possible ban on Internet cafes, tax breaks for another sports team and a workshop taking up a dozen charter school bills. Here are five things to watch for on Monday:
• The Senate Gaming Committee takes up a bill (SB 502) that would ban the operation of illegal gaming devices by so-called Internet cafes. The ban has gained momentum after a state and federal investigation into Allied Veterans and its affiliates led to 57 arrests last week and prompted Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll to resign. The House Select Committee on Gaming passed a companion bill (HB 155) on Friday.
• The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee tackles legislation (SB 922) sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, that would provide millions of dollars in tax breaks to pay for improvements at Everbank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Gator Bowl, among other events.
• The Senate Education Committee studies 12 charter school bills in an afternoon workshop that could indicate where the legislators stand on a range of issues, including funding, accountability and transparency.
• A bill (HB 1315), sponsored by W. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, that would allow young adults, under certain circumstances, to remain in foster care until age 21 instead of 18 is being considered by the Healthy Families Subcommittee.
• Ian Kysel, author of the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch report, Growing Up Locked Down: Youth in Solitary Confinement in Jails and Prisons Across the United States, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The panel is considering the Youth in Solitary Confinement Reduction Act (SB 812), sponsored by State Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, which limits solitary confinement for juveniles in Florida’s jails and prisons.
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