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Florida House OKs DNA evidence bill, snags sentence reform, college-athlete pay measures in amendments


Focus on the Legislature

By John Haughey | The Center Square

The Florida House on Tuesday unanimously advanced to the Senate a bill allowing DNA evidence to be used to exonerate as well as convict but ensnared several key Senate measures in amendments and postponements.

DNA evidence: House Bill 7077, co-sponsored by Reps. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, and James Bush III, D-Opa Locka, would give convicted felons access to potentially exonerating or mitigating evidence by expanding the type of forensic analyses available for defense and reducing standards for courts to order forensic analyses.

Under the bill, which now moves to the Senate, courts could order a private lab to perform a forensic analysis. If an analysis returns a DNA profile, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) would search the state’s DNA database and request a search in the national index, possibly identifying an alternative suspect.

Bush said state economists could not estimate how much the measure could cost the FDLE because, “Simply said, there’re too many people that are being locked up for crimes they did not commit.”

Additionally, courts could order a government entity to search for reportedly lost or destroyed physical evidence and return a report.

Forensic analyses could apply scientific or forensic techniques to biological evidence, even beyond DNA testing.

Calling it a historic moment, he thanked Grant, a Tampa Republican, for moving criminal justice reform in Florida in the right direction.

Criminal sentencing reform: SB 346, sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, was approved by the Senate on Feb. 26 in a 39-1 vote.

Under SB 346, non-violent offenders convicted of possessing or selling less than 2 grams of a controlled substance, other than fentanyl, may not be imprisoned longer than 12 months, if it is their first drug possession conviction.

The bill allows for judicial discretion in sentencing other nonviolent drug-related offenders, straying from minimum-maximum sentences if they did not use a firearm in commission of the drug-related crime, have not been convicted of a violent felony and “truthfully” confessed.

But a strike-all amendment filed Tuesday by Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, would strip mandatory minimum sentencing reforms and install new language on DNA testing, wrongful incarceration, compensation for being wrongfully convicted, expungement of criminal records and juvenile justice.

The amendment would direct $9.9 million to pay wrongful incarceration claims beginning next fiscal year. It also outlines conditions for getting criminal records expunged.

A proposed amendment to DuBose’s amendment filed by Grant replaces the $9.9 million allocation to “a sum sufficient to pay the approved payments.”

If the House passes DuBose’s strike-all, the bill would go back to the Senate where senators could reinstall the sentencing reform provisions.

College athlete pay: The House advanced to a Wednesday third reading a Senate-adopted bill allowing college athletes to earn money off the use of their name, image or likeness.

The Senate on Monday passed Senate Bill 646, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, in a 37-2 vote.

However, an amendment filed Tuesday by Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, essentially transformed SB 646 into House Bill 7051, which he co-sponsored with House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, D-Cutler Bay.

LaMarca’s amendment installs a requirement that colleges provide health insurance to student athletes. The Senate dropped requiring insurance coverage from its version.

“If a college or university benefits from the talent and skills of these young women and men, which they do, then it is my strong position that these schools should value the athletes enough to ensure that their health is protected,” LaMarca said.

The bill allows college athletes to be paid for the use of their likeness or in endorsement deals, to hire agents and requires colleges to provide mandatory financial literacy courses by July 1, 2021.

If adopted in its third reading Wednesday, the bill will go back to the Senate to reconcile differences.

College Athletes, Criminal Sentencing Reform, DNA, The Center Square, The Florida Legislature


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