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Legislature clears bill to combat retail theft ‘boosting’

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Sen. Jim Boyd

Sen. Jim Boyd

The Legislature has agreed to crack down on “organized retail theft,” over the objection of critics who say the measure is too harsh.

The House voted 80-36 on March 8 to approve SB 1534 by Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Jonesville, sponsored the companion, HB 1511.

Clemons said retail theft is costing businesses nationwide $10 billion a year.

“This is not about stealing a coke or a candy bar,” Clemmons said. “This is about trying to stem the tide of organized retail theft.”

The measure would make “organized retail theft” a new crime that would subject violators to a third-degree felony if they commit five or more retail thefts within a 30-day period and steal 10 or more items from at least two different locations, regardless of the value of the items.

Perpetrators who steal 20 or more items could face second-degree felony charges.

Supporters say the measure is needed to discourage “boosting.”

“Boosting is the basic act of walking in a store and stealing items without getting caught,” Clemons said. “This can be done in a number of ways, from pocketing smaller items, to simply walking out the front door with a cart full of big-ticket merchandise and enough confidence that you will not be questioned or stopped by the store employee.”

Clemmons said a task force Attorney General Ashley Moody created in December logged nearly 60 cases of organized retail theft or related crimes involving 250 individuals.

Boyd noted that retail drug chains are now locking small-value merchandise behind theft-proof barriers.

The measure has the support of the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Retail Federation, and the National Federation of Independent Business.

“There is a very serious issue out there with organized retail theft,” said NFIB’s Tim Nungesser. “There is an issue with the online sale of these items.”

Faith-based groups, the ACLU, and other criminal justice reform advocates are opposed.

But critics said the measure moves Florida in the wrong direction, especially after Florida just approved raising the felony theft threshold to $750.

A teenager caught shoplifting school supplies or soft drinks could face felony charges, critics warned.

“This bill is simply heavy handed, and will really only penalize poor people,” said Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville.

Rep. Mike Gottlieb, D-Sunrise and a criminal defense attorney, said the measure is unnecessary.

Selling stolen merchandise on the internet is already a felony, Gottlieb said.

“We’re giving prosecutors another tool that we really don’t need,” he said.

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