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Bill would increase felony theft threshold to $750

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Measure would also create two new judgeships and provide for district offices for justices

The Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to raise Florida’s felony theft threshold from $300 to $750, a compromise that reformers say they can live with.

Sen. Rob BradleySponsors initially pushed for $1,500, but Committee Chair Rob Bradley, R-Flemming Island, said the change would still represent a milestone in a state that hasn’t adjusted the level since 1986.

“This is the number I am comfortable with and many of my colleagues are comfortable with,” Bradley said.

The measure, SB 7072, passed 21-0 on March 14.

One of several criminal justice reform packages moving this session, the measure would also add an additional circuit judge in the Ninth and 12th circuits, authorize offices for Supreme Court justices in their home districts if they live outside of Tallahassee and expand veterans’ courts to all 20 judicial circuits.

Proponents have long argued that having such a low felony theft threshold saddles too many non-violent offenders with a criminal record that shuts the door on gainful employment.

They point to neighboring states like Georgia, where the threshold is $1,500, or Texas, where it’s $2,500. According to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts, 37 states have raised their felony theft threshold since 2000.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, noted that a $750 threshold would still make stealing a cell phone a felony.

“What’s the rationale behind $750 as opposed to the $300?” Rouson said.

Bradley said $750 represents the existing $300, adjusted for inflation.

“I am a little reminded of the old song, ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want,’ Rouson said. “This bill represents…a step forward in overall criminal justice reform.”

Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, asked why the measure no longer includes a proposal that would raise the threshold every two years, based on the Consumer Price Index.

Bradley said that provision was dropped for simplicity’s sake.

“In talking to the folks in the court system, there’s some thought that having it move all the time without action by the Legislature would create a little bit of uncertainty on the ground with law enforcement,” Bradley said.

Powell asked about including any time frame for “revisiting” the threshold, but Bradley assured him it wouldn’t be necessary.

“I think every year we revisit it, like we revisit all of our laws,” Bradley said.

The compromise version satisfied a perennial opponent to threshold reform, the Florida Retail Federation. The business group has expressed concern that any increase would encourage organized shoplifting rings. The compromise measure includes a provision that would allow prosecutors to aggregate goods stolen over a 90-day period, versus the existing 48 hours, if the thefts occur in more than one county, and each county has concurrent jurisdiction.

Lobbyist Gary Hester said the Florida Police Chiefs Association supports the bill now that it no longer appears to lower penalties for the theft of specific items, such as fire extinguishers, stop signs, and construction material, that could pose a public safety risk.

The provision that would require a veterans court in every judicial circuit would require four of Florida’s 20 circuits to create them.

The measure could be debated next on the Senate floor, but Bradley has indicated he is considering referring it for one more committee stop.

A House panel has called for raising the felony theft threshold to $1,000, but the measure has yet to reach the House floor.