As this is being written, the 2017 session is in the books. It will likely be remembered primarily for the high-profile issues that went unaddressed and the often intense intra-party quarrels. Bills to implement medical marijuana and approve a gambling compact potentially worth hundreds of millions to the state were among the casualties.
As it relates to criminal justice reform, the session was at best a mixed bag. A Senate priority to require civil citations for certain juveniles charged with misdemeanors failed to pass. Legislation that would have significantly curtailed prosecutorial discretion to try juveniles as adults failed along with a fallback proposal to impose reporting requirements on the practice. A bill that would expand opportunities for early release of elderly and incapacitated inmates never got a committee hearing in the House. A bill that would reform minimum mandatory provisions for certain drug offenders got a very favorable hearing in Senate committee and then went nowhere. Language that would establish a criminal justice reform task force died as well. New mandatory minimum provisions related to fentanyl were passed despite opposition and a no vote by the Senate president.
Among bills that passed, legislation that shifts the burden of proof from the defense to the prosecution in so-called ‘Stand Your Ground’ cases passed. The Department of Corrections’ priority legislation passed clean despite the Senate sponsor’s attempt to attach provisions related to release of elderly and incapacitated inmates at several stops and right before final passage. A bill establishing autism training for law enforcement officers passed as did legislation aimed at strengthening services and protections provided to victims of human trafficking.
Overall, the results of the session mean that Florida will arguably continue to lag many of its southern peers in adopting criminal justice reforms. While the strength of the law enforcement community is undeniable, it is the lack of consensus among the state’s political leadership that is the main reason that progress has come slowly. States that have been successful, like Georgia and Texas, had strong leadership and buy-in from both the Executive and Legislative branches. Without consensus, there is no coherent vision. There will be successes, but they will be random. The disparate message coming from the advocacy community makes the task of achieving consensus that much more difficult.
On the bright side, we are at least having a serious public discussion of ideas that were once practically taboo in the Florida Capitol. While the effort to establish a joint House/Senate criminal justice reform task force failed, Senate leadership has indicated that this topic will continue to be examined on the Senate side. House Speaker Richard Corcoran also has publicly stated that he would like to see the state prison population reduced. The Department of Corrections has indicated its support for certain strategies, such as alternative sanctions for certain drug offenders and early release for elderly and incapacitated inmates, that would further reduce the inmate population. There have been random successes and Florida has been a leader in establishing so-called problem solving courts that provide alternatives to incarceration for offenders with addiction and mental health issues.
Clearly there are opportunities and much room for future improvement. The challenge will, as always, lie in sorting out the details. This will not happen without all parties at the table communicating openly. Those of us with an interest in moving this discussion forward will be well served to come together, cast aside previous divisions and work to offer a comprehensive and realistic vision to our state’s leadership. The Florida Center to Advance Justice stands willing and able to work toward this goal.
If nothing else, the intense debate over how to implement legalized medical marijuana in Florida has given many of us a crash course in business economics, government regulation and medical protocols.
We’ve heard hours of discussion on such topics as vertical versus horizontal business structures, free-markets versus exclusivity, and physician discretion versus government prescription.
Missing from this discussion, however, is the collateral damage of the drug trade – addiction, criminal behavior, broken families, unemployment, even death.
Ironically, these collateral effects are the most likely to directly impact the average Floridian. As we’ve recently learned from the prescription opioid crisis, it doesn’t matter that a substance is legal and highly regulated.
Fortunately, the Legislature has a tremendous opportunity to make major progress toward addressing these unwanted side effects. Under current law, marijuana is subject to the state’s sales and use tax. This is, by the way, consistent with most of the states that have legalized medical marijuana. State economists estimate that tax collections will eventually rise to $24 million on an annual basis. This estimate, however, is based on assumed annual sales that are roughly one-quarter what a leading industry expert predicts.
Either way, these funds represent an untapped resource that could be used to boost the state’s substance abuse education, prevention and treatment efforts.
As things stand right now, the House bill (HB 1397) exempts medical marijuana from state tax. The Senate bill (SB 406) retains the sales tax but the funds would go to General Revenue unallocated. As unallocated General Revenue, $24 million is a relatively insignificant amount that will be fought over by the myriad interests that compete each year in the budget process. As a dedicated funding source for prevention and treatment, however, it becomes a significant shot-in-the-arm to help address a growing crisis in our state.
At the Center to Advance Justice, our primary mission is to educate the public on policies and practices that research show to be effective in reducing criminal behavior and the associated costs. As such, we are acutely aware of the connection between substance abuse and criminal activity.
Perhaps even more compelling is the public health crisis we are experiencing with the recent spike in opioid overdose deaths. It is a painful reminder that shutting down a market, as we did with pill mills, does not solve the underlying addictions that drove it.
The bottom line is that the drug trade, whether legal or not, creates unintended societal consequences that affect us all.
Any public policy discussion related to creating a new legal drug market should include a discussion of these unintended effects. It is both logical and appropriate for an industry to participate in addressing the externalities it creates. Plus, the well-developed regulatory schemes that exist for the existing pharmaceutical industry are not in place in for medical marijuana.
Finally, we have not picked up on any opposition from industry representatives we have spoken with regarding the idea of the industry contributing to prevention and treatment efforts.
Therefore, the Center to Advance Justice, along with several advocacy organizations, respectfully suggests that the Legislature give serious consideration to retaining the existing sales tax and dedicating all or a portion of the funds to evidence-based prevention, education and treatment.
Jim DeBeaugrine is the CEO of the Center to Advance Justice, a Florida nonprofit that provides information to the public and to policy makers regarding evidence-based approaches to reduce crime and the associated costs. He was formerly the staff director of the House Justice Appropriations subcommittee and the Executive Director of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.
As published in Florida Politics, 4/11/2017
The Florida Legislature gaveled its annual 60-day regular session to order this past Tuesday and hit the ground running. There were several bills debated and passed in committee related to criminal justice policy. In addition, the chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice released his preliminary list of proposed reductions to the recurring base budget.
Senate base budget reductions
Chair Aaron Bean released his initial list of recommended base budget reductions totaling $46 million of General Revenue. In large part, the Senate relied upon relatively painless technical adjustments to the budget such as shifting costs from General Revenue to available trust funds. Trust fund increases offset these reductions by $19.4 million and effectively hold the budgets for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, state attorneys, and public defenders harmless.
The largest single reduction on the list is a reduction of $18.3 million to reflect the anticipated decrease of 1,575 inmates in the inmate population. While this is a technical adjustment and only reflects the variable costs associated with each inmate (e.g., dorm security, healthcare, etc.), the department will no doubt make a strong argument that it should be allowed to retain these funds to shore up longstanding deficits.
There were only two substantive program reductions on the list: $3.2 million reduction to the Juvenile Redirections program within the Department of Juvenile Justice and a $1 million reduction to the Commission on Offender Review resulting from reassigning clemency functions to the Executive Office of the Governor and parole functions to the Department of Corrections.
The list also includes adjustments to debt service in the Department of Corrections to reflect current obligations, a $1 million reduction to the State Courts based on unfilled positions and elimination of a member project in the 18th Circuit State Attorney’s Office.
Featured bill - Juvenile Civil Citation
SB 196 by Sen. Anitere Flores and its companion, HB 205 by Rep. Ahern, both passed out of committee this week. Going into the week, the two bills were substantially similar with both requiring officers to issue civil citations in lieu of arrest for juveniles that admit to certain misdemeanor offenses. The bills came out of committee, however, bearing little resemblance to one another. The House took up a Proposed Committee Substitute that essentially deals with expedited expungement of juvenile arrest records where the youth completed a diversion program. Provisions related to juvenile civil citations are no longer a part of the bill.
Since the Senate version of the bill is a key piece of the Senate president’s stated priority to “decriminalize adolescence,” the issue is likely to be used as a bargaining chip in upcoming House-Senate negotiations. The Senate bill has generally enjoyed support from youth advocates but has generated concerns among law enforcement representatives because it makes civil citations mandatory for certain enumerated first-time misdemeanor offenses rather than discretionary on the part of the officer.
SB 118 by Sen. Steube prohibiting websites from charging a fee to remove mugshot and arrest information passed the Committee on Criminal Justice and is now in Appropriations.
SB 279 by Sen. Thurston, which would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to restore civil rights to certain convicted felons, passed the Criminal Justice Committee and is now in Judiciary.
SB 128 by Sen. Bradley revises the “Stand Your Ground” law to place the burden of proof on the state in such cases was read a second time on the floor and rolled over to 3rd reading for final passage. The House companion (HB 245) is still in committee.
SB 270 by Sen. Thurston, which is a proposed amendment to the constitution to restore civil rights to certain convicted felons, passed out of the Senate Criminal Justice committee and is now in Judiciary. The House companion (HB 53) has yet to be heard in committee.
SB 280 by Sen. Bracy, which requires unanimous jury recommendation for the death penalty, passed both House and Senate and was presented to the Governor who has until March 17 to act.
SB 448 by Sen. Brandes, which encourages local jurisdictions to implement adult civil citation programs, was temporarily postponed with an amendment pending by the Criminal Justice Committee. It is scheduled to be considered at the committee’s meeting on March 13. A linked public records exemption bill was also postponed and is up for consideration next week as well. The House companion (HB 367) is still in committee. Interestingly, it’s linked public records exemption bill (HB 369) is scheduled to be taken up by the House Oversight, Transparency and Administration Subcommittee on March 13.
SB 458 by Sen. Brandes establishing a Criminal Justice Reform Task Force is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on March 13. The House companion (HB 387) has yet to be heard in committee.
SB 494 by Sen. Bradley, which eliminates much of the current “clean hands” exception for compensation of people who are wrongfully incarcerated, passed the Senate Judiciary and is now in Appropriations. The House companion (HB 993) has yet to be heard in committee.
SB 1052 by Sen. Simmons, which deals with justifiable use of force in a dwelling, is on the Senate Judiciary committee agenda for March 14.
Juvenile direct file reform
SB 192 by Sen. Powell is currently in the Criminal and Civil Justice Subcommittee. The Criminal Justice Impact Conference, however, scored the bill and found the prison bed impact to be indeterminate as it relates to the overall effect of the bill and to result in 64 less prison beds being needed over the next five years due to provisions related to children under 14 at the time of their offense. The Department of Juvenile Justice also issues its long anticipated updated fiscal impact summary which estimates a fiscal impact of $19 million for the next fiscal year, increasing to $24 million for the year after. There is no House companion, although there is some indication that language may be included in a proposed committee bill. Prospects for this bill appear to be diminishing.
For a complete list of all the bills being tracked by FCAJ, with links to real-time updates posted by their legislative bodies, see the Legislation Tracking section on our home page.