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Florida Democrats Call For Hearings On Police Reform Bills

Manhattan 2019. Behind the police with gun belt
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Manhattan 2019. Behind the police with gun belt, close up

Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus members are calling on Republicans to hear their bills. It’s not unusual for Democrats to struggle to get their proposals before committees in the Republican-led chambers. But the social justice protests over the summer and increased focus on health disparities during the pandemic have caucus members saying their proposals are too important to be ignored.

"For many of us, the reality is we live in two Americas, two Florida’s," said Rep. Bobby Dubose (D-Ft. Lauderdale). One Florida has families telling their kids to trust and look for the police when they’re in trouble. The other Florida has communities that are fearful of law enforcement officers. Where families must give their kid the talk.

House Minority Leader Bobby Dubose wants Republicans to take up a series of bills aimed at law enforcement.

“We just want to see these bills receive an honest debate in committees," said DuBose. "That’s all we’re asking for here today is a collaborative effort to hear these bills, to help us reimagine a better Florida for all communities."

The proposals cover issues raised about policing following the death of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, had 15 complaints of excessive force in Minnesota before that incident.

Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-Windermere) has a bill she believes will prevent officers with a history like Chauvin’s from working in law enforcement.

“We want a database in Florida so that there can be intervention, there can be training, there can be disciplinary action," said Thompson. "And to prevent a person who is decertified as a law enforcement officer from leaving one county and going to another county.”

Sen. Bobby Powell’s (D-West Palm Beach) bill is a response to the death of Breonna Taylor. She was killed in a shooting as officers were serving a no-knock warrant. The city of Louisville has since outlawed the act. Powell’s bill would ban the practice in Florida.

The Democrats’ police reform package comes as Republican's push their own response to the social justice protests through House Bill 1. It increases penalties for riots and crimes related to them. Rep. Fentrice Driskell (D-Tampa) calls the measure unnecessary.

"I think Floridians know that HB 1 does not make our communities safer. Does not make us safer. Does not make us feel like we can our first Amendment rights that we’re guaranteed under the constitution," said Driskell. "So yes, while we will be fiercely fighting against that bill and you’ve already seen our caucuses unite in opposition to that bill. We will also be working tirelessly to shepherd through this legislative package because we know that this is what Floridians are asking for."

HB1 has already advanced past its first committee. During the hearing both Democrats, non-profits, and other individuals spoke against the legislation. It passed with unanimous consent from Republicans.