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Several crime bills are close to passing the Florida legislature

Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) highlights several measures aimed at cracking down on crime on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) highlights several measures aimed at cracking down on crime on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

Several bills aimed at cracking down on "dangerous" crimes in Florida are expected to pass the Republican-led state legislature in the coming weeks.

"What this week is about is measures that we’ll put in place to get tougher on gun violence and gun crime and those who commit those crimes," said Florida House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast), speaking during a press conference on Wednesday.

Renner says he expects several bills to pass in the coming weeks that would crack down on sexual battery, violent crimes, gun theft, human trafficking and more. The regular legislative session is expected to end on May 5.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last week a bill that will allow people to carry concealed guns without a permit in. Now, Renner says lawmakers will focus on passing a bill that would increase penalties for certain gun crimes, such as repeat firearm theft.

“That’s where the focus needs to be," Renner said. "That’s where the vast majority of gun crime in this state occurs."

Democrats opposed doing away with gun safety training and permitting requirements to carry a concealed weapon before the bill passed along party lines.

And House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) says she doesn't believe the proposal to crack down on gun theft would offset Democrats' concerns about gun violence increasing.

House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) took questions from reporters during a press conference focused on the budget on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) took questions from reporters during a press conference focused on the budget on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.

“In states that pass permitless carry, gun violence goes up," Driskell said. "I don’t think that the measures that were spoken about today do anything to help keep our law enforcement officers more safe.”

The bill would also increase penalties for those who commit human trafficking with the use of a firearm.

Florida Rep. Sam Garrison (R-Orange Park) is sponsoring the measure, which has bipartisan support.

Another bipartisan measure that Garrison is sponsoring would prevent people who’ve been charged with a range of offenses — including violent crimes, drug trafficking and possessing a gun as a felon — from being released before trial without first appearing before a judge.

“What we’re saying here in Florida is that for dangerous crimes, you will see a judge," Garrison. "A judge will put eyeballs on you. We’re not going to let administrative orders or algorithms determine who’s released from custody.”

Another crime-related bill — HB 1297 — would make it a capital offense for someone to sexually assault a child under the age of 12 years old. The bill is expected to get taken up in the House on Thursday. The Senate's version of the bill passed its final committee this week.

“It serves to protect and deter the most heinous crime, that of sexual battery on a young child under the age of twelve, said state Rep. Jessica Baker (R-Jacksonville) who's sponsoring the measure. "And there’s no place in a civilized society for those who would prey upon our children.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against allowing someone to be sentenced to death for any crime other than murder, including sexually assaulting a child.

House Speaker Paul Renner says state Republicans are hopeful the nation's highest court might see things differently, now that it leans more conservative.

“I’ve always believed, as the governor does, that that in certain circumstances deserves the death penalty. The court has decided otherwise in prior opinions, and they may take a different view now.”

Republicans are also considering a measure that would require a judge to recommend a death sentence if eight jurors agree, instead of requiring unanimous consent.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.
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