The TaxWatch Research Blog

The TaxWatch Research Blog is a forum where our research staff can address topics and issues in a short format. Keep an eye on this space during Legislative Session for frequent posts making sense of the activity at the Capitol. 

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Criminal Justice: Policy In Progress

Every year, the Florida Legislature sees the introduction of hundreds of bills written by policymakers hoping to make Florida a better and safer place to live, work, and play. Criminal and juvenile justice issues are frequent subjects of these bills and many of the criminal justice reforms seen in Florida are due to the persistence of legislators, groups, and Floridians who bring their issues and solutions to the table year after year.

With the 2017 Legislative Session drawing closer, it is important to keep in mind these topics and bills and identify those that have gained significant traction in recent years and are likely to reappear.  Following Florida’s 2016 Legislative Session, Florida TaxWatch identified four major issues that were frequently discussed and that appeared in several of the bills put before the House Justice Appropriations, Judiciary, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice committees as well as the Senate Appropriations on Criminal and Civil Justice, Criminal Justice, and Judiciary Committees: 

1.     Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Training

The establishment of Crisis Intervention Training as well as Forensic Diversion sites has drastically improved police interactions with individuals with behavioral health issues.  The bills proposed during the 2016 Legislative Session surrounding law enforcement training focused on improving the workforce as well as improving how law enforcement handles interactions with other specific groups, particularly minorities and those with psychological disorders.

2.     Sealing & Expunging Adult Criminal Records

For thousands of Floridians, a one-time nonviolent misdemeanor or an arrest without a conviction can put a mark on their record that may limit their future opportunities.  Several bills during the 2016 Legislative Session sought to give these ”marked” individuals a second chance while maintaining public safety by improving processes of sealing or expunging records.

3.     Juvenile Direct File

The ability to try juveniles as adults is a topic of great debate.  While some claim that many direct file juveniles are too dangerous for juvenile sanctions, opponents of the policy call it unjust, stating that juvenile offenders are too different from adults to treat them the same way.  Keeping an eye on the needs of the community as a whole, as well as on the best interests of juvenile offenders, bills regarding this issue during the 2016 Legislative Session sought to remedy, but not eliminate, the direct file process.

4.     Pre-Arrest Diversion & Civil Citation

Modern cultural shifts in sentencing and punishment have placed greater emphasis on reserving jails and prisons for dangerous offenders, opting for alternative sanctions that limit or prevent lower level offenders’ involvement in criminal and juvenile justice systems.  Florida’s pre-arrest diversion programs have been successful in achieving this goal without risking public safety, but primarily target juveniles and remain under-utilized.  Bills regarding diversion and civil citation during the 2016 Legislative Session sought to improve and expand the use of pre-arrest diversions for both adults and juveniles.

Of the roughly 250 bills analyzed, these four topics comprised almost 10 percent of all criminal justice bills presented in committee during the 2016 Legislative Session.  Upon further analysis, these issues have received steady or increased coverage with time, so it is likely that these topics, if not the exact bills themselves, will be presented again in Florida’s 2017 Legislative Session.  For this reason, it is important to understand these topics and what each issue's related legislation is trying to accomplish.

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