By John Haughey | The Center Square
Leading Democratic senators and the Florida Legislative Black Caucus (FLBC) are calling for a special session to discuss police reforms as nationwide protests continue over the May 25 death of George Floyd.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, however, said a hastily assembled special session is not the suitable forum to address comprehensive criminal justice reform.
“There is definitely a role for the Senate in helping to craft a comprehensive solution, but not a solution that can be achieved in a time-limited special session without more consideration and understanding of what will work to solve the problem,” Galvano wrote Tuesday in a letter to Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, who represents Apopka in District 11.
Bracy proposed the special session in Friday letters to Gov. Ron DeSantis, House Speaker José Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and Galvano.
In an ensuing news conference, Bracy said he had 10 reform proposals to consider in a special session.
“I and many others have worked on these proposals for years, but they have been largely ignored,” Bracy said. “I believe innocent lives may be lost while we wait.”
FLBC Chairman Rep. Bruce Antone, D-Orlando, said the caucus has proposals to compile a database of police brutality complaints, create an independent agency to investigate excessive force incidents and give civilian review boards subpoena power.
“This is possibly the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make the police reform changes that need to be made,” Antone told the Orlando Sentinel.
Galvano in his Tuesday letter agreed “the horrific actions and inactions of the Minneapolis police officers that resulted in the death of Mr. (George) Floyd have generated a renewed sense of priority across the nation in addressing the kinds of criminal justice reforms this Senate has pursued and passed in recent years.”
Bracy and Antone are among lawmakers who have lobbied for reforms as part of the Senate’s start-and-stall criminal justice reform effort for years. Few have been adopted, despite support from an array of bipartisan groups, including conservative organizations.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has spearheaded the reform effort. During the 2020 session, he introduced proposals to give judges more discretion in sentencing for drug-related offenses, steer more felons to prison diversion programs, increase monthly gain time inmates earn and permit early release of seriously ill and aging inmates. All were adopted in the Senate but not in the House.
A 2020 bill filed by Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, would have required law enforcement and student resource officers to get training in implicit bias. That bill never got a House hearing.
Reform advocates cited opposition by law enforcement lobbyists and unions, such as the Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA) and local chapters of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), for blocking reform measures, such as mandatory body cameras, required recording of custodial interrogations and statewide civil citation programs for juveniles.
Last week, however, FPCA president Kenneth Albano said the association would commission a panel to work with “community leaders” to develop recommendations to “address some of the most deep-seated societal issues that plague our communities and contribute to many of the negative encounters with law enforcement in the first place.”
Albano, chief of the Temple Terrace Police Department, said the FPCA panel aims to present lawmakers with proposals when they next convene in March 2021.
Bracy told reporters last week he didn’t expect the governor or legislative leaders to call a special session. They’ll now face voters’ wrath in November, he predicted.
“I know the issue won’t die,” he said. “I know the people are activated, they’re motivated. They’re watching to see which lawmakers take action, and I think there’ll be (electoral) consequences if they’re ignored.”
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