Florida Senate Moves Quickly On Policing Bill

Apr 27, 2021

Senator Perry E. Thurston, Jr.
Credit News Service of Florida

A late-session push by the Florida House to require new training standards for police officers is ready to go to the Senate floor this week after unanimously passing the House.

The proposal (HB 7051), in part, would place restrictions on when police officers can use chokeholds and would require officers’ training to include “alternatives to use of force, including de-escalation techniques.”

The Senate Rules Committee held a meeting Tuesday specifically to consider the bill, approving it in a 17-0 vote. Rules Chairwoman Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, said the bill likely will be considered on the Senate floor Thursday, the next-to-last day of the legislative session. The House voted 113-0 on Monday to pass the measure, sponsored by Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Neptune Beach, and Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.

The legislation is a response to the nationwide debate on policing practices after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer in May. Lawmakers said Tuesday the bill is a “starting point.”

“I think that it would be horrible if we didn’t have some type of legislation that’s coming to say, ‘Well, we recognize what’s going on in society … and we’re trying to address it,’” Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. Thurston, who is Black, said he is “still concerned” when he thinks about potential interactions between police and his nearly 30-year-old son.

“This (bill) is something hopefully that’s going to benefit the community and save lives,” Thurston said. “We don’t want police encounters to be life-threatening situations.”

New training standards for officers under the bill would be required to include a “duty to intervene in another officer's excessive use of force,” and a “duty to render medical assistance following use of force.”

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, cited a slew of policing-reform measures filed by the Florida Legislative Black Caucus heading into this session that were never heard in committees. Those proposals included mandating that body cameras be worn by officers in every Florida law- enforcement agency and prohibiting law-enforcement agencies from buying surplus military equipment.

Gibson, who is Black, described the measure that advanced Tuesday addressing standards as “a place the community and law enforcement could reach some agreement.”

“I do believe that training and standards, first and foremost, is extremely important when situations are not so friendly,” Gibson said, so that “we don’t see some of those egregious things that happened during the summer to largely African Americans.”

Under the measure, officers applying for jobs at other police agencies would have to disclose pending investigations into “criminal, civil, or administrative wrongdoing.” Law enforcement agencies also would be required to “maintain employment information for a minimum of 5 years after the date of the officer's termination, resignation, or retirement.”

The proposal would mandate that independent reviews be conducted in use-of-force incidents involving deaths or intentional discharges of firearms that result in injuries or deaths. The findings of those reviews would be reported to state attorneys. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, touted the measure’s passing Monday in the House.

“About 90% of Americans want at least the same or more policing in their community. House Bill 7051 continues to build faith and trust in law enforcement,” Sprowls said in a statement.

Attorney General Ashley Moody also backed the measure.

“These are steps that are going to go a long way to start building that relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. I’m so proud of the folks that have worked on this,” Moody told The News Service of Florida.