The 2018 Florida Legislative Regular Session officially adjourned Sine Die on March 11, 2018. Over 3000 bills were filed this legislative session, with approximately 200 bills passing. We encountered numerous bills threatening civil rights and liberties and the ACLU of Florida worked tirelessly to defeat the most significant threats to our civil liberties.
Despite the many bills filed that would have set back the clock on civil rights, we are very pleased that the 2018 Florida Legislative Session concluded with notable successes for the ACLU’s legislative priorities of protecting and defending civil rights and liberties. Equally important, along with many key partners and allies, we were able to defeat numerous bills that threatened Floridian’s civil liberties and rights. Here is a snapshot of some of the bills that passed and those which were defeated:
Criminal Justice Reform
The Legislature passed several key reforms to our criminal justice system. Foremost, the Legislature passed legislation (SB 1392) that makes major changes to the way Florida agencies collect and report criminal justice data and expands Florida’s laws regarding juvenile and adult civil citation programs. The legislation creates a uniform model for criminal justice data collection by requiring local and state criminal justice agencies to report a substantial amount of complete, accurate, and timely data. The data being reported will also include information from state attorneys and public defenders, such as the annual caseload, data related to any bail or bond or pretrial release determinations, information pertaining to court dates and sentencing, and information about victims. This data will hopefully help Florida’s elected officials better understand the scale of our criminal justice system and law enforcement officials recognize policies in other regions of the state that are safely decreasing incarcerated populations.
This legislation also requires each judicial circuit to create a civil citation or pre-arrest diversion program for minors. In addition to expanding the existing juvenile civil citation program, the bill encourages local communities and public or private educational institutions to implement pre-arrest diversion programs for adults. In the model the law provides, adults who receive civil citations must report for intake, fulfill community requirements, and may have to pay restitution. Individuals are provided assessment, intervention, education, and behavioral health care services by the program as appropriate. If these programs are widely implemented and utilized, then Florida should see a decrease in overall crime and recidivism.
Other criminal justice reforms were not adopted but made it further along the legislative process than they have in previous years. The bills to increase Florida’s $300 threshold for grand theft felony to $1000 (SB 928/HB 713) passed five of their six committees and was nearly added as an amendment to SB 1392. A safety valve for drug offense mandatory minimums (SB 694) passed all four assigned committees. Reform of Florida’s practice of suspending driver’s licenses for non-driving offenses (SB 1270/HB 1095) passed three of the six assigned committees. Lastly, bail reform legislation (SB 1882/HB 967) did not pass any committee but started the conversion at the Capitol about the unfair and discriminatory nature of our current bail system that locks up people based on their financial resources, not their risk to society. Overall, this progress is encouraging and makes us confident that Floridians can expect even more substantial criminal justice reforms in the 2019 legislative session.
Anti-immigrant legislation (SB 308/HB 9) was successfully defeated. If passed, this legislation would have forced all Florida government employees to serve as unpaid immigration agents by requiring them to carry out enforcement of federal immigration law, regardless of their own job responsibilities. This would have eroded the police-community trust that is necessary for local law enforcement agencies to effectively maintain public safety. It would have also exposed cities and counties in Florida to costly litigation for racial profiling and Fourth Amendment violations. We are thankful for those who stood with Florida’s immigrants and voted against this unconstitutional bill.
Legislation that would have prevented women from having access to a safe abortion with a trusted physician (HB 1429) also failed to pass the full Legislature. This unconstitutional legislation would have dictated what medical procedures doctors can perform and prohibited doctors from exercising their best medical judgment and providing their patients with the appropriate medical care they need. Medical experts and major medical organizations like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose bills like this one because they interfere with a woman’s access to safe medical care and put women’s health in jeopardy.
Legislation did pass that could significantly chill student, faculty, and staff expression of free speech on Florida’s public college and university campuses. While the legislation eliminates free speech zones on outdoor areas of campus, which we support, it also provides that students, faculty or staff may not materially disrupt speakers in reserved spaces on campus and creates a separate cause of action for compensatory damages and attorney fees against the public institution of higher education. This legislation (SB 1234) was stalled in the Senate after being voted down by the Senate Judiciary committee but the controversial language was inserted at the end of session in a final education package (SB 4) passed by the full Legislature. The ACLU of Florida is deeply concerned about this legislation and will be exploring all options to ensure that free speech on campus is not limited.