Public nuisance bill clears house committee

Jan 31, 2012

Florida lawmakers are considering a measure that would help police to crack down on repeat drug offenders. Regan McCarthy reports the measure would expand the definition of a “public nuisance.”

Representative Jim Frische says Florida’s drug dealers are getting smarter.                                                                 

They’ve figured out that if you just step off property onto a city sidewalk the criminal event doesn’t happen on property so it’s not included in any nuisance abatement ordinances.”

Frische, a Republican from St. Petersburg , is the author of a bill, House Bill 1443, that would expand the definition of “public nuisance” to include any place where  more than twice in 6 months, controlled substances are stored for the purpose of being sold or delivered. Frische says his bill will help to fight crime.

“And it gives the cities another tool to deal with not only gang, but drug-related violence.”

St. Petersburg Republican, Representative Jeff Brandes, says he’s been approached about bringing a similar bill forward before, but he hasn’t. He says that’s because he’s worried the bill could accidentally ensnare an innocent person—for example someone who owns a hotel.

“I have an obligation to my knowledge to rent to pretty much anybody who comes in the door without discrimination. If my location has been sighted as a nuisance prior to this and then I rent a room to somebody and then they’ve now gone and found drugs in that room and I did not knowingly rent to somebody it seems like I could be brought before the board for a violation.”

Brandes says he supports the bill, but would like to see what he calls a “knowingly and willingly” provision in the measure. Frische says he thinks the proposal already takes care of that. He says the bill stipulates that officials would work to ensure the owner of the property is aware of the situation. But he also says owners need to be more than by-standers who are collecting rental fees, and need to take some responsibility for the situation.

“You have an obligation to keep illegal activity outside of your business because you control your business in theory. And we expect owners to maintain some control and if you’re willing to rent repeatedly to people who are dealing drugs out of your hotel, then you probably have bigger problems than just the nuisance board, quite frankly. But this gives the city an opportunity to use the nuisance ordinances to help you control that also.

Representative Mark Pafford, a Democrat from West Palm Beach, says he’s considered similar issues—like what the impact might be on parents if their teen is caught a few times storing illicit substances in his room. But Pafford says he feels confident the bill protects people in those kinds of situations and focuses on drug traffickers instead. He says the measure is a tool he knows from experience that law enforcement officers could really benefit from.

“I live in a neighborhood that’s loaded with rental homes and since I’ve been in that neighborhood there’ve been at least a half a dozen drug busts and no matter how many times I called the sheriff, they could do anything.”

Pafford says he’s convinced this bill will help. Frische says local governments must first have their own local nuisance ordinances in place before the provisions in his bill can be enforced. The bill passed through the House Community and Military Affairs Subcommittee. A similar bill in the Senate has not yet been taken up.