Legal Affairs


Executive Summary

Introduction

During the 2017 legislative session, 3,052 bills were filed; only 249 (8.2%) passed and made it to the Governor’s desk. One of the most striking numbers from this year’s session is that 2,755 bills were never even heard in committee. Finding a legislator in both the House and Senate to file a piece of legislation, getting it heard and approved in the committee process, having both chambers pass it, and finally getting it to the Governor’s desk for his final approval is no easy task. Sheriffs were aware of these facts and created a successful plan to work together so they could get their legislative priorities passed and ensure other legislative changes, that would have hindered public safety, did not pass.

Change was a consistent theme throughout the 2017 legislative session. Twenty-five new sheriffs took office this year, and their fresh perspective and willingness to engage in the legislative process were greatly appreciated by FSA President, Sheriff Jerry Demings, and sheriffs serving on FSA’s Legislative Committee. There were also 66 new members in the Legislature this year; that is almost half the members going through the ups and downs of session for the first time. In the end, these new legislators worked with leadership in both chambers to pass both of FSA’s legislative priorities, authorize a host of other public policy initiatives, and pass an $83 billion-dollar state budget.

In June, legislators were called back to the Capitol for a brief Special Session to finalize a compromise on economic development, a few education funding initiatives, as well as a bill to implement the voter approved constitutional amendment for medical marijuana. When the dust settled on the 2017 legislative session, the final assessment was another successful year for sheriffs and public safety in Florida.

Sheriffs’ Legislative Priorities

The Florida Sheriffs Association’s top legislative priority was passage of comprehensive drug control legislation to address Florida’s rising heroin and Fentanyl epidemic. The widespread use of these drugs has devastated communities across the state. Florida’s medical examiners reported 704 people died of a Fentanyl-related overdose during the first 6 months of 2016 the same number of Fentanyl-related overdoses that occurred in all of 2015!

Much of this recent damage is caused by drug trafficking organizations mixing heroin with Fentanyl, a narcotic drug prescribed to treat severe pain, in order to create a more potent drug; Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin. HB 477 creates trafficking penalties for Fentanyl and its derivatives, like Carfentanil, a synthetic opioid 100 times more potent than Fentanyl, used as tranquilizer for elephants and other large animals. These stiffer penalties are for drug dealers and traffickers of Fentanyl—not addicts and users.

It was disappointing that this point was oftentimes lost during the debate in the Senate, where some senators used this legislation as a platform to denounce minimum mandatory sentences by using inaccurate scenarios of how drug traffickers would be impacted by this bill. Thankfully, sheriffs and Attorney General Bondi spent time lobbying the Senate. General Bondi met with senators and was able to visually show them what the minimum amount of heroin/Fentanyl for drug trafficking looked like and how this could not be confused with simple drug possession. At the end of the day, the sheriffs, General Bondi, and our dedicated bill sponsors Representative Jim Boyd and Senator Greg Steube, convinced enough senators about the importance of HB 477 and the Senate passed it on the final day of session.

The Florida Sheriffs Association also supported legislation (HB 7059) to address high recidivist juvenile offenders – referred to in the bill as prolific juvenile offenders (PJO). Sheriffs collected numerous accounts from across the state where a small number of juvenile offenders were committing crimes and not being held accountable because they would be sent home for 3 months, or more, before reporting to secure detention. While at home awaiting placement, many of these juveniles would commit more crimes like auto thefts, vehicle burglaries, robberies, and car jackings.

Led by FSA’s Legislative Chair, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, sheriffs began work on legislation to close this loophole in the juvenile justice system. The result was the creation of HB 7059. Juveniles declared as PJO’s will now be on active electronic monitoring or placed in secure detention pre-adjudication; the State Attorney’s Office must also try them within 45 days. There are other parts to this legislation, but the key component is that there will now be consequences for these high recidivist juvenile offenders who are causing crime in our communities.

The Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) started implementing parts of the bill even before it became law, and FSA appreciates DJJ’s efforts in supporting HB 7059 and working with sheriffs to address this rising problem.

Failed Bills

Bills that failed to pass included an increase in the threshold for retail theft, a bill that would have put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot to ensure all sheriffs are elected, and a bill that would mandate the issuance of juvenile civil citations, instead of making arrests, for certain crimes. FSA opposed this mandate (SB 196) because it removed a deputy’s discretion to assess the crime at hand and react accordingly. Law enforcement officers exercise discretion every day, and in recent years Florida has seen an increase in the number of civil citations being issued to juveniles. Sheriffs want to ensure they remain accountable to their communities and retain the management authority needed to carry out public safety responsibilities. Mandating civil citations also eliminates the ability of the community to decide how to best handle juvenile offenses.

Sheriffs supported HB 205, which would have provided juveniles with the opportunity to recover from a firsttime interaction with the criminal justice system. This bill enhanced the current expunction of a criminal history record through juvenile diversion programs and provided juveniles with the additional safeguards to simplify the expunction process. A compromised agreement could not be reached during session and both bills failed to pass.

Special Session & Medical Marijuana

The Florida Legislature returned to Tallahassee during the first full week in June to complete several policy issues. Governor Scott’s proclamation for special session 2017A included several key education funding and economic development issues, as well as legislation related to the implementation of Amendment 2 – medical use of marijuana. During the special session, the House and Senate passed SB 8A, which implements the 2016 constitutional amendment authorizing the use of marijuana for certain medical purposes. The many provisions of the legislation included the prohibition of smoking marijuana, numerous regulations for creating edible marijuana products, limits on the number of dispensing facilities each Medical Marijuana Treatment Center may operate, and the creation and funding for 55 full-time positions at the Department of Health to monitor and enforce this new law.

Conclusion

Through teamwork – with sheriffs, their staff, and our lobby team at Southern Strategy Group – FSA was successful in passing the sheriffs’ top priorities and fighting bills that threatened public safety. The success would not have been possible without the dedication of the many individuals committed to the FSA’s legislative program. The Florida Sheriffs Association will continue to keep sheriffs, our law enforcement partners and our honorary members up-to-date on all critically important public safety issues until the next legislative session begins on January 9, 2018.

For additional information about Florida Sheriffs' Association Priorities follow this link 2017 FSA Legistlative Priorities

Florida Sheriffs 2017 Legislative Priorities

Updated March 14, 2017  Download PDF version

Comprehensive Drug Control

This year FSA will focus on one key legislative priority: the passage of comprehensive drug control legislation to address Florida’s rising heroin and Fentanyl epidemic. Much of this recent devastation is caused by Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) mixing heroin with Fentanyl, a narcotic drug prescribed to treat severe pain, to create a more potent drug. The end result is a deadly combination that is overwhelming first responders. Between 2013-2015, Florida medical examiners recorded a 281% increase in Fentanyl and a 280% increase in heroin caused deaths in Florida.

The Comprehensive Drug Control bill:

  • Creates criminal penalties for trafficking in Fentanyl and synthetic drugs, such as cannabinoids and cathinones.
  • Allows a person to be charged with murder for causing any death through the distribution of Fentanyl, heroin, or any mixture thereof. This penalty currently exists for cocaine, opium, and methadone.
  • Adds numerous “Fentanyl Derivatives” to Florida’s Controlled Substances Schedules to ensure all chemical variants of Fentanyl are included.
  • Provides for an increased penalty for 10 or more grams of Fentanyl. This penalty currently exists for other drugs that have no accepted medical applications.

Without legislation to address the widespread rise of heroin and the increase in abuse of Fentanyl, these drugs will continue to devastate Florida communities.

 

Florida Sheriffs Association Legislative Platform (2017)

Prevention & Youth Services

Civil Citations: Oppose a statewide mandate of issuing civil citations to all juveniles, and support enhanced data collection to ensure deputies have the most up-to-date information available to them before issuing a civil citation.

Law Enforcement

Elected Sheriffs: Support SJR 134/HJR 721 to propose an amendment to Florida’s Constitution to ensure all sheriffs are elected by the citizens of their county.

Blue Lives Matter: Support legislation (SB 70/HB 57) that protects law enforcement officers in the line of duty.

Jails, Corrections & Re-Entry

Early Release: Support Truth in Sentencing laws requiring convicted criminals to serve at least 85% of their sentence.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: Oppose the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences.

Expunction of Criminal Records: Oppose unlimited expunction of criminal records.

State Sentencing: Oppose the sentencing of state inmates to county jails, but the Florida Sheriffs Association supports sheriffs’ ability to individually contract with the Department of Corrections for housing state inmates.

Gaming

Gambling: Oppose the expansion of any gambling, including Casino Resorts or Internet poker.

Administration

Florida Retirement System: Support returning length of service to 25 years and the retirement age to 55 years for Special Risk Class employees.

Florida Retirement System: Support legislation to assess the financial impact and necessary funding required for an ad hoc cost of living adjustment for future Special Risk Class retirees.

Budget

Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training Funding: Support continued funding to train law enforcement officers to safely assess and identify people in mental health crisis and help connect them with community treatment, and keep them out of the criminal justice system.

Community Mental Health Funding: Support funding for mental health services that will assist persons after they are released from county jails and have to transition back into the community.

Sexual Offender/Predator Registry Improvements: Support funding FDLE to affect critical updates to the electronic statewide registration process.




SHERIFFS SUPPORT A RETIREMENT SYSTEM THAT ALLOWS PENSION PROMISES TO BE KEPT, and oppose House Bill 7011. 
Click this link to the Florida Retirement System position paper for more information.