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Senate passes bill to make ‘organized retail theft’ a felony

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Sen. Jim Boyd

Sen. Jim Boyd

Over the objection of criminal justice reform advocates, the Senate has agreed to crack down on “organized retail theft,” also known as “boosting.”

The Senate voted 38-0 on February 17 to approve SB 1534 by Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton.

“This is happening around the country as we have seen, with no consequences,” Boyd said. “Hard (working) men and women are being robbed, because these people know there’s no consequences.”

The measure would make the theft of 10 or more items from at least two different locations within a 30-day period a third-degree felony.

The theft of 20 or more items would be a second-degree felony.

Supporters say the measure is needed to counter “boosting,” where a thief fills a shopping cart with high-value items and bolts outside to an accomplice in a running vehicle.

The measure is supported by Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Florida Retail Federation.

But critics say it goes too far, and that felony charges should be reserved for violent crimes.

“If somebody was a klepto for school supplies, and they stole 10 pencils from one store, and 10 pencils from another store, would that be felony retail theft?” asked Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

Boyd countered that the bill contains a $750 threshold.

“This gets more at frequency and pattern of behavior,” Boyd said.

If “this is more about frequency, [than] it is to price, then why is there a $750 threshold?” said Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, was concerned that the measure could saddle someone who suffers from a compulsory disorder with a felony charge.

“I want to make sure that somebody who needs attention would get it,” she said. “Because it sounds more like something of a mental-health situation.”

Boyd said the courts would determine a defendant’s competency.

Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami and a former prosecutor, said the measure would protect mom-and-pop store owners who are tired of watching thieves brazenly empty their shelves.

“I guarantee two-thirds of the people in this room don’t know what the threshold for grand theft is,” Pizzo said. “But these people who do this know.”

It’s highly unlikely that police and prosecutors would abuse the new law, Pizzo said.

“Would any prosecutor worth their salt try to go in front of jury and try and convict someone for a felony for $9?” Pizzo said. “No.”

A companion, HB 1511 by Rep. Chuck Clemmons, R-Jonesville, must clear a final stop in Judiciary before reaching the House floor.

The 60-day session adjourns March 11.

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