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DeSantis Vetoes Three Criminal Justice Reform Bills

The bills, which passed with bipartisan support, would have made it easier for felons who’d served time to re-enter society successfully. But Gov. DeSantis said they would reward criminals.

Desmond Meade of Florida Restoration Coalition tells the press about his plan to hand out 1 million masks at various polling locations across the state of Florida, Oct. 7, 2020. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel/TNS)
Willie J. Allen Jr./TNS
Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed three criminal justice reform bills this week that passed the Legislature with broad bipartisan support and were aimed at helping convicted felons ease back into society after serving their time.

The bills also had support from organizations as disparate as the NAACP, the Chamber of Commerce and the conservative Institute for Justice.

“Vetoing these bills won’t make anyone safer,” State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said. “And it will make it harder for people who serve their time to search for employment and further feeds into the systemic racism that is clearly evident in our criminal justice system.”

DeSantis said he felt the bills either rewarded criminals or made communities less safe.

Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, said the governor’s veto messages on the bills didn’t have a lot of substance. “All I saw was political rhetoric,” Meade said.

The fact the bills got to the governor’s desk at all was “nothing short of a miracle,” he said. “When I see something like this arrive on the governor’s desk that both sides support, it deserves a closer look.”

One bill, SB 62, would have ensured that Florida inmates could still qualify for in-state tuition upon release. That would save them $490 per credit hour compared to out-of-state tuition — or close to $15,000 a year for a full-time course load.

The bill passed the House 109-5 and the Senate unanimously.

“We should not reward criminal activity by providing inmates with the same benefits as law-abiding citizens,” DeSantis said in his veto message issued Tuesday.

Sponsored by two Republicans, House Bill 1241 would have ensured that parolees aren’t automatically sent back to prison for non-violent parole violations, such as being late for a meeting with a probation officer, Eskamani said.

The bill also would have required courts to modify, rather than revoke, probation if a person meets specific criteria and has fewer than two previous violations of probation resolved by the court. It also limited the jail sentence a court may impose to 90 days for a first low-risk violation and 120 days for a second low-risk violation.

It passed both chambers unanimously and had support of conservative groups, including the Christian Coalition.

In his veto message issued Tuesday, DeSantis said the bill would have given felons an extra and undue chance to stay on probation.

Finally, HB 133 — which passed unanimously and was sponsored by a Republican in the House — would have reduced from five to three the number of years that must elapse before a criminal conviction could be used to deny someone a barber or cosmetology license.

It also would have required the licensing boards to recognize education credits earned for barbering and cosmetology classes taken in prison. The Institute for Justice and the Florida Justice Rights Restoration Coalition supported the legislation.

“The bill categorically prohibits the board from considering an applicant’s criminal history within three years of the application for a license,” DeSantis said in his veto message Wednesday. Boards may have good reason to check those earlier records, he said.

An analysis by House committee staff, however, said the bill would have allowed a board to consider an applicant’s criminal history within that three-year period.

The bill also would continue letting boards consider “forcible felonies and crimes that require a person to register as a sexual predator” within three years of applying for a license.

“It is unjust to continue to punish people for the mistakes made in their past and prevent them from earning a living in the future,” Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, said. This bill could have been vital to someone’s future livelihood and helped to reduce recidivism.”

©2024 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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