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Mitch Perry Report for 3.31.15 — Jeff Brandes’ civil forfeiture bill advances

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

With his role as the legislative chair of the Florida Sheriffs Association, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is in Tallahassee a lot these days, arguing for or against bills regarding law enforcement. His agency gets a lot of respect from lawmakers, but the FSA doesn’t always get their way.

That was what happened late yesterday afternoon, when St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes’ civil forfeiture bill that prohibits law enforcement agencies from retaining property and assets seized from individuals who are not convicted of a crime passed with bipartisan support through the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

“We have seen countless examples where an individual is never charged with a crime, but their property is civilly sued by law enforcement and permanently seized,” stated Sen. Brandes. “Hundreds of millions of dollars have been seized through the civil asset forfeiture process in Florida alone, billions have been seized nation-wide. This bill removes the financial incentive so that this law enforcement tool is only used when it is needed to combat criminal activity.”

That’s not how the FSA saw it.

“This bill is the epitome of a solution looking for a problem that does not exist,” Gualtieri declared in opposing the bill. “There is no perverse incentive on the part of law enforcement executives in the state of Florida.” He went on to say that there wasn’t “one example” of any of the 67 sheriffs in Florida who had misused funds or spent them in an improper fashion.

Gualtieri then went one-by-one to each senator on the panel, mentioning how the sheriff in their individual county had distributed the monies collected from civil forfeiture, saying almost of all of that went to nonprofit groups doing good work.

But his pleas didn’t move the committee. Orange Park Republican state Sen. Rob Bradley voted against the bill, the only legislator on the committee to do so.

Brandes’ bill still has a way to go before becoming a law. The question about support won’t be coming from Democrats, but from his fellow Republicans.

In other news…

No city in the country is more excited about the real and potential changes in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. than Tampa. Yesterday Treasury and Commerce Dept. officials from Washington came to the Cigar City for a forum on the possibilities.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker talked a little about Cuba at the forum, and a lot about the Trans Pacific Partnership.

David Jolly is being targeted by the DCCC for his budget vote last week that included voting against Pell Grants. Jolly calls the DCCC a bunch of “hacks,” and says he actually is supportive of expanding their use to make college more affordable.

And a Jack Latvala-sponsored bill that would shield personnel information on law enforcement officials and their relatives moved on in a Senate Committee yesterday. Law enforcement supports the bill, but the First Amendment Foundation says it would eliminate oversight and accountability for these personnel by “taking their entire history out of public view.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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