TALLAHASSEE, FL - Today, the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee heard a presentation by FSU’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice regarding current racial disparities in our criminal legal system. The Florida Senate has partnered with FSU’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice to provide racial impact statements for select proposed criminal justice reform bills this legislative session. The goal of this pilot project is to analyze the racial and ethnic impact of select criminal justice reform bills that will be heard by the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee to ensure that future reforms do not exacerbate racial disparities.
During the past legislative session, advocates sought to pass legislation that would have required racial impact statements on all criminal justice reforms. This legislation was not ultimately adopted, but funding was appropriated for this one-time limited project.
Florida lawmakers failed to include a racial impact assessment provision in the final version of House Bill 7125. The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. DeSantis this summer, reduced occupational licensing barriers for certain occupations for people with past felony convictions, limited the number of offenses that can result in driver’s license suspension, raised the felony theft threshold from $300 to $750, and eliminated mandatory direct file of children for certain offenses. These modest reforms fell short of the comprehensive criminal justice reform package that Florida needs to end the state’s reliance on mass incarceration and eliminate racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
Kara Gross, ACLU of Florida legislative director and senior policy counsel responded with the following statement:
“We are grateful that the Florida Senate has recognized the importance of understanding the impact our criminal justice system has on racial disparities in our prison population. Florida’s criminal legal system is plagued with racial disparities at every stage of the process. Evidence-based racial impact statements are necessary to ensure that reforms enacted by our legislators do not exacerbate racial disparities and redress the disparities that currently exist.
“These racial impact statements will allow lawmakers to understand the ramifications of policies that are proposed before adopting and implementing them. This should hopefully result in a fairer and more equitable criminal justice system. Unfortunately, this is only a short-term pilot project, and we need long-term solutions. We hope the legislature will require racial impact statements on all criminal justice bills going forward and that this will become a permanent part of our legislative process. Currently, Florida law requires a fiscal impact analysis, including private sector impacts, on all bills prior to being heard. We are long overdue for requiring a similar analysis with regard to racial impacts. This common-sense reform will bring our state one step closer to eliminating racial disparities in our broken criminal justice system.”