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Florida prepares to pass a massive criminal justice bill

May 1, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A 350-page Florida criminal justice bill that touches on subjects ranging from selling horse meat for human consumption to raising the threshold for felony theft from $300 to $750 could get passed in the final days of the legislative session.

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes said it would be the largest criminal justice package to come out of the Legislature in decades — even though he had to strip provisions that would have allowed nonviolent felons to be released from prison earlier and language that would have given judges more leeway in sentencing nonviolent drug offenders rather than having their hands tied with mandatory minimum sentences.

The items that remain include reducing the penalty for a third driving with a suspended license offense from a felony to a misdemeanor.

“You’ll no longer be able to be labeled a felon the rest of your life for the third driving on a suspended driver’s license,” Brandes said.

Brandes had to compromise on some key elements of the bill designed to save money on prisons and redirect it to police and prevention programs. The state’s truth in sentencing law, which now requires felons to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, would have been reduced to 65 percent for nonviolent felons, but Brandes said the House wouldn’t accept the language.

Instead, the bill would create a task force to exam the state’s sentencing policies and make recommended changes by June 30, 2020.

Other provisions in the bill would:

— Make it illegal to access someone’s online account without their permission.

— Delete a mandatory minimum one-year sentence for mislabeling horse meat and selling it for human consumption.

— Allow Florida Supreme Court justices to open official offices in their hometowns.

— Loosen restrictions so that nonviolent felons could receive professional licenses for work in construction, cosmetology and similar professions.

The Legislature is extending its annual 60-day legislative session to Saturday, but it won’t take up any bills other than the budget after Friday. That means lawmakers have two days to pass the criminal justice bill.


A previous version of this story incorrectly said penalties for a third offense of driving without a license would be reduced. The bill would reduce penalties for a third offense of driving with a suspended license.

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