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2021 Legislative Preview

February 17, 2021

Introduction

This year’s legislative session will be like none other in the more than 175 years of legislative meetings at our Capitol. Many committee meetings will be done virtually, visitors at the Capitol will be greatly reduced, legislators will be routinely tested, face coverings or masks will be required all the while Florida is confronted with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted our families, our communities as well as our economy. Our nation is in the mist of implementing the largest national vaccine distribution plan. Positive developments in our fight against this pandemic are encouraging, but there will still be tough times ahead.

The past year has been challenging, but Floridians are resilient. Our citizen legislature will still convene during this tumultuous time because our work does not stop because of a pandemic. We charge ahead and sheriffs remain committed to working with all legislators to find solutions for our state to rebuild and remain focused on the tools law enforcement has that have kept Florida’s crime rate at a 50-year low.

FSA’s Legislative Priorities

Sheriffs usually host their legislative summit in late August to determine their priorities for the upcoming session. However, due to the pandemic it was decided to delay the summit until after the elections and to also host it virtually. FSA hosted a Zoom meeting in early January and more than 35 sheriffs participated. At the conclusion of the summit sheriffs voted to make 3 issues a priority for the 2021 legislation session.

FSA’s top three legislative priorities for the 2021 session will be:

  1. Drones: Sheriffs will once again work on legislation to permit expanded use of drones by law enforcement. While the bill has failed to pass the Senate the past few sessions, we are optimistic that this will be the year it passes both chambers and heads to the Governor for his approval. The legislation would allow law enforcement to use drones to gain an important aerial perspective with managing large crowds in a public space, for the collection of evidence at a crime scene or traffic crash, assessing wildfires or other natural disasters, and for limited traffic management situations.
     
  2. Closing the Sex Offender Registration Loophole: The current wording of the Florida sexual offender statute under §943.0435 has created an unintended loophole that allows sexual offenders to avoid registration as a sexual offender so long as they fail to pay any court-ordered fines. Based on the statutory wording, a recent appellate court decision held that a person does not qualify as a sexual offender, and therefore does not have to register as a sexual offender, until the person has been released from all sanctions imposed, including any court-ordered fines. As a result, there currently exists an unintended exception to the registration requirements of sexual offenders. Sheriffs will be supporting legislation aimed at closing this loophole to ensure all sexual offenders in Florida are required to register regardless of whether they have paid their fines.
     
  3. Controlled Substances/Drug Control: Florida continues to work to solve its opioid epidemic. Treatment and recovery support services are needed for those who are addicted to drugs, but enhanced tools are necessary to hold drug dealers accountable for their criminal actions of flooding our communities with deadly drugs. The proposed legislation would:
    • Modify the current law regarding the unlawful killing of a person by distribution of a controlled substance. The modification would be to remove the requirement that the drug be determined to be the “proximate cause” of death to “have caused, tended to cause, or contributed to the death of the user”. This change will modernize current law to ensure drug dealers who cause a person’s death from the drugs they sell can be charged with murder.
    • Modify the above statute by creating a culpable negligence charge for drug dealers who sell drugs to a person who overdoses but survives. Current law allows the drug dealer to be charged with murder, but there are no penalties for the dealer who sells drugs to a user who survives and are revived by use of naloxone. Law enforcement wants to save people’s lives with naloxone and get them into treatment, while at the same time being able to charge criminals with culpable negligence.
    • Enhance penalties for selling or distributing controlled substances within 1,000 feet of drug treatment clinics by increasing the penalty to a first-degree felony. This would include a drug treatment clinic, recovery residence (sober homes) or any facility that provides treatment to recovering addicts. Florida already has laws in place prohibiting the sale of drugs from 1,000 feet of schools and day care centers. Substance abuse treatment centers should also be included in this list.

 

Conclusion

The 2021 legislative session begins on Tuesday March 2nd, and sheriffs are looking forward to another productive year advocating for numerous public safety bills.For more information on the FSA Legislative Program and to stay up-to-date on all legislative issues please visit: www.dev.flsheriffs.org/legislative.