GOP-Led Senate’s First Black Dem. Criminal Justice Chair Talks 'Surprise' Appt., Goals

Dec 23, 2016

Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando)
Credit Florida Senate / Florida Senate

For the first time in two decades, the Republican-led Florida Senate is getting its first black Democratic criminal justice chair. It's a former state Representative turned Senate freshman.

Since Republicans took control of the Florida Legislature, there have only been two black committee chairs. And, Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart) appointed the second: Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando), the new Senate Criminal Justice Committee chair.

Negron says he based his decision on Bracy’s past background and reputation in the House as well as his own personal observations. He says that alone made Bracy ideal for other committee roles as well.

“He has an expansive portfolio of assignments,” said Negron, speaking recently to reporters. “If you look at his committee assignments, he’s on Banking and Insurance, he’s on Judiciary, he’s on Appropriations, and he’s on Regulated Industries. I mean those are very coveted spots in the Senate and that reflects the ability he has based on part 1 of my decision making that he has extraordinary capabilities and I think will be a leader in the Senate. So, that was my thought process on how I arrived at that particular chair.”

Negron says both he and Bracy share similar views on one of the Senate President’s top priorities: decriminalizing adolescence and not incarcerating juveniles for minor offenses.

But, he also doesn’t want to limit those types of reforms to juveniles.

“I think there’s a growing consensus in both parties to make sure, obviously we have dangerous people incarcerated and we want to keep our crime rate low,” he added. “But, at the same time, having people who serve time in prison for technical violations of probation that could have been dealt with in another way, it’s not making us safer, and I’ve talked about this. When you look at our incarceration rates compared to other countries, it’s pretty startling.”

And, Bracy agrees.

“One thing I do believe is that we over sentence people, juveniles, but also adults for low-level nonviolent crimes. So, that’s something I want to address,” he said. “I think we need to do more on the back end when people get out, helping them to get back on their feet. So, we’ll be looking at reentry programs, and we’re just going to look at the whole gamut of our whole criminal justice system and see what needs to be addressed.”

Bracy has also worked on several issues as the top Democrat on the House Criminal Justice Committee. But, he says criminal justice reform is also personal for him.

“This is a personal issue with me because I’ve had family members, friends that have been in the criminal justice system,” he added. “So, it’s just been a passion of mine to look at the criminal justice system and try to make it fair for everyone.”

Bracy says he was determined to shared that personal passion with Senate President Negron.

“I made it known that this is something that I’m passionate about and I would work hard, if I was given the position,” Bracy continued. “Obviously, it hasn’t happened really in a very long time—I don’t think ever—where a Democrat has had the chair of the criminal justice committee. So, he’s placed a lot of trust in me. I’m appreciative of the opportunity. Obviously, I’ll work under his direction, but, I really want to make difference here, and so, I don’t think this is symbolic gesture. I think the Senate President is serious about criminal justice reform. But, I was surprised when I got the appointment.”

Bracy says as chair, many of the bills he’ll be filing will be criminal justice-related. On a personal note, he’d like to look at how the state criminalizes low level marijuana possession, but he’s on the fence about filing it.

“We’ll have to see,” Bracy stated. “That’s a bill I would file, but I just don’t know if the rest of the legislature has the appetite to do that. So, in a perfect world, that’s something I’d do.”

Meanwhile, Bracy isn’t the only black Democrat committee chair. Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson was also chosen to chair the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security committee.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.