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Police reform package heads to Florida Senate as session nears end

'It's a good first step,' Sen. Randolph Bracy says
Posted at 9:28 AM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 09:28:21-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's first major police reform package in years has cleared the House.

Lawmakers gave it unanimous approval Monday afternoon, but time is running out if the bill is going to reach the governor.

Florida's Legislative Black hammered out HB 7051 in the last few months in cooperation with the GOP majority and leadership following the death of George Floyd last year.

A jury recently convicted former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on murder charges related to the killing.

HB 7051 draws ideas from more than 20 different bills proposed this year.

Some of the biggest include:

  • Improved use of force training for law enforcement.
  • Limits on when officers can use chokeholds, forbidden unless an officer "perceives an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or another person"
  • Better record-keeping to ensure bad officers aren't hired by other departments
  • Preventing the arrest of kids 7 and younger unless they commit forcible felonies

"It's about trust," said State Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Jacksonville Beach, one of the policy's primary sponsors. "Trust in our public institutions is vital. None more so than law enforcement."

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle cheered approval, which also had the backing of the state's sheriff and police chief associations.

"I think this is exactly what we need," said State Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa. "We listened to the communities -- both communities of color and law enforcement. I think we have a very great bill that will start to move the needle forward."

The bill now heads to the Senate where members said leadership has promised to give the policy a committee meeting, ensuring it will be heard on the floor before the lawmaking session wraps Friday.

"The momentum is behind something like this -- now is the time to pass it," said State Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, who is handling negotiations in the upper chamber.

While Bracy was confident the policy would see wide Senate support, he hoped its reforms would open the door for further change in the future.

"It’s a good first step," he said. "But I'm going to be pushing for more. I think we can do better."

What lawmakers don't know is how the governor feels about the bill. DeSantis has yet to say whether he supports HB 7051 or not. However, given the extensive support to date, members are hopeful he will sign.

The policy would take effect on July 1 of this year.