Florida First Step Act clears second Senate committee

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By: Capitol News Service
April 17, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) – A sweeping criminal justice reform package has cleared its second Senate committee.

The Florida First Step Act would allow for non-violent prisoners to serve only 65 percent of their sentence if they participate in educational or work-related programs in prison.

The bill increases the felony theft threshold from $300 to $1,000. It also removes barriers for certain professional licenses for former inmates and allows for judges to divert away from mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses.

Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes says it will help address the growing crisis in Florida’s corrections system.

"We're trying to tell a story with this legislation that we've got to focus on diversion on the front end, we've got to help people transition back into society on the back end,” said Brandes. "But in order to do that, we've got to fix the middle. That middle is looking at the criminal punishment code, looking at downward departures, allowing judges to actually be judges and not simply tabulators. This really is focusing on a variety of different areas that we think are problematic in the existing system and trying to build bold reforms to move forward.”

The House and Senate bills have some key differences, but Brandes says he’s confident some version of the legislation will pass this year.

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