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How Florida got bipartisan police reform — and what was lost to achieving it

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Tampa, Florida. – In beforetime 2020, the Florida legislative session closed but the black caucus continued to meet.

A group of people poses for the camera: Fentress Driskill speaks at the Municipal Committee on the Equal Rights Amendment at the Tampa Club Center in Tampa, Florida, on Sept. 5, 2019.

© Octavio Jones / TNS
Ventress Driskill speaks at the Municipal Committee on the Equal Rights Amendment at the Tampa Club Center in Tampa, Florida, on Sept. 5, 2019.

At first, the group focused on what could be done about the pandemic. But as the summer began, and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor brought renewed attention to the issue of police brutality and the disparate treatment of blacks, the rally directed its efforts to police reform.


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The 27 members, most of whom are Democrats, thought getting a package on the subject might be a daunting process. The state senator said police reform was “something we’ve never been competent to get consensus on, at fewest as far as I can remember.” Randolph Prause, Democrat.

But following Prause spoke to House Speaker Chris Sprouls, he felt unused optimism. The moment felt ripe for police accountability, and Sprowls, the son of a police officer who has spoken out about the need for transparency in the criminal justice system, appears begin to a reform package.

The legislature led by the Republican Party, following the priority set by Gov. Ron DeSantis focused on pushing the “riot” bill in response to the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests that seemed in stark contrast to the reforms the rally wanted.

“I felt weak at times because we weren’t sure if we would get any police reform with that background,” the MP said. Fentress Driskill.

But Driskill, a Tampa attorney chosen to lead Democrats in the Florida House of Representatives start in 2024, worked to put together a package of reforms that would be acceptable to Republican leaders and law enforcement. Key to her efforts: a bipartisan team with the Sprowls.

The bill passed unanimously by the Senate and the House of Representatives, ratified by major law enforcement organizations and signed into law by DeSantis final month — a key moment for the caucus in a year dominated by headlines about controversial Republican-led bills.

“It feels like the culmination of a lot of firm work going on over a year ago,” Driskill said. “It gives me hope and optimism for Florida’s coming and that we may be competent to persevere this conversation and shove for more reform.”

Some lawmakers, like Prause and Senator Daryl Rawson, still feel that the bill was toothless, having passed through a time crisis that left it without some of the more combative reforms they had hoped for. Prause said legislative leaders deliberately prolonged negotiations to force Democrats to accept a watered-down bill late in the session.

The unused law imposes a duty to intervene if another law enforcement officer does something mistaken, requires officers to provide medical concern to people in their custody, limits the use of strangulation and requires job applicants to disclose whether they left a previous agency during an investigation, among other changes.

Driskill said she was not surprised by the support from major law enforcement organizations, saying that House leadership helped by reaching out to get their point of view.

“We were both willing to donate some to take some and the result is House 7051,” she said.

Driskill said her constituents were surprised that the law passed unanimously, particularly given the background to the “riot control” bill.

But even supporters of this riot law backed the police reform bill, saying it would aid rebuild public confidence in the system following a tumultuous year.

Sprowls said he believed the bill was a big part of the cooperative legislation.

“I’m the son of a police officer, and I’m the previous attorney general,” Sprouls said. “It is as significant to me as it is to other people to make sure that all communities have confidence in their justice system.”

Sprowls said that issues of data transparency and trust in the criminal justice system have forever been significant to him. In 2018, when he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he advocated a law requiring the state to collect correct data on every misdemeanor and felony in the state to provide transparency about any bias in the criminal justice system.

While the data collection required by this law is behind schedule, Sprouls said he saw this year’s police reform bill as a “natural progression” of his efforts.

Prause said he wanted to see requirements for body cameras and to accomplish accountability when officers violate provisions of the law. Rawson expressed a similar sentiment in St. Petersburg College Forum earlier this month, where it said the bill “does not contain any teeth for non-compliance.”

Most of the reforms supported by the unused Florida law were either already in place in most law enforcement agencies or were uncontroversial changes to how law enforcement agencies operate, said Laurie Friedel, a University of South Florida professor of criminology who researches police use of force and police deviance. Already working.

Friedel noted that some of the unused requirements have been recommended by the Florida Police Chiefs Association in 2020. More controversial issues such as lifting competent immunity and examining the authority of police unions that have emerged in other states are not mentioned in the unused law.

One of the things not widely repeated in the Florida bill, Friedel said, is the requirement for outside agencies to conduct killer investigations. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who co-authored the bill, led the move to put such a practice in place in Pinellas County in July 2020, saying the idea arose from protests scrutinizing police actions.

re come back. Cord Baird, a Republican who was chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee, said the committee has taken more than two dozen bills and worked to tie them into uniform legislation.

“The bill came out late in the session, but the reason is that we have tried to incorporate as many concepts as conceivable that have had the widest traction,” he said.

Bird said the bill sets a standard ground for agencies, something he hopes will build Florida residents’ confidence in law enforcement.

He said gaining unanimous support for the bill in a highly partisan environment was firm but showed that such efforts were conceivable.

“We took the ideas, we listened, and it shows we can do it when we want to,” Bird said.

Prause said he feels there have been some plays around the clock to avoid the bill being too wide, even following beforetime negotiations ruled out things like an outright forbid on chokeholds.

“I think the negotiations went on throughout the session, and the later they got there, the more worried nothing was done,” Prause said. “And I think that was on purpose, to be sincere, I think the speaker knew I’d rather go further.”

Prause said he’s not sure if bipartisan cooperation on this bill bodes anything in the coming.

“I don’t know if this momentum will persevere into the next year,” he said. “I will preserve pushing for more, but for us to have a consensus like that, I don’t know if we can do it again.”

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