TALLAHASSEE – A plan in the Legislature to prohibit the arrest of children younger than 7 in most instances, inspired by an incident involving an Orlando 6-year-old in 2019, is once again caught up in a larger bill in the last days of the legislative session.
The measure died last year in the final days of the session because it was part of a school safety bill that tanked amid disagreements between House and Senate leaders. This year, the provision is contained in a comprehensive police reform bill that Black lawmakers especially have been pushing for as a response to the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, as well as other killings of Black civilians by police across the country.
Sen. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat, has pushed for the ban on arresting children since late 2019, after Kaia Rolle was arrested following a tantrum at the Lucius and Emma Nixon Academy school in Orlando, during which she punched a teacher.
The incident didn’t gain national attention, however, until a video of the arrest was made public in February 2020, well into the legislative session.
The prohibition on arrests of children under 7 is included in HB 7051, the police standards bill the House will vote on next week. But Bracy, who has championed police reform measures as well, doesn’t think the bill goes as far as needed to address the problem of bias and excessive use of force by police.
“The police reforms, training for officers — there’s no accountability measures if they don’t comply,” said Bracy. “That’s what the Senate is concerned about.”
The bill requires applicants for law enforcement jobs to disclose whether they have any pending investigation against them or if they resigned from a previous law enforcement position while under investigation. It also creates minimum training standards for the use of chokeholds, the use of force, de-escalation tactics, and the duty to intervene when another officer uses excessive force. Police agencies would also be required to have an outside agency investigate possible instances of excessive force, and issue an independent report.
Data on excessive use of force incidents would also be required to be collected by police agencies under the bill.
Bracy is the lead Senate negotiator for the bill, and the chamber could amend the measure once they receive it from the House to strengthen the accountability provisions for police. But by doing so, Bracy would run the risk of the entire bill failing, including the Kaia Rolle Act.
“We’re just waiting for them to pass it and then we’ll decide what we want to do,” Bracy said.
GOP House Speaker Chris Sprowls is the son of a New York City police officer and a former prosecutor who is staunchly in favor of law enforcement and skeptical of many of the police reforms favored by advocates following the Floyd murder. But he also said he’d be open to proposals that make sense and is supportive of the bill.
“All of this is really designed for one goal, and that is to make sure that people have confidence in policing that’s in their community,” Sprowls said.
Many of the provisions of the bill were passed by the Senate as standalone measures, but never taken up in the House. By lumping them into one bill, it likely forces the Senate’s hand to take the bill as is.
Other Black lawmakers want to go further and place more accountability measures for police in the bill. But they appeared willing to accept the House version.
“Given that we are not in control of House or the Senate, we knew that these bills had a long way to go before all of them were heard. There’s some good pieces and good points that have been taken over in the House,” said Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
It’s a step the Legislature shouldn’t pass up, Powell said, especially in the wake of HB 1, the anti-riot bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law Monday. Black lawmakers have decried that bill as an unconstitutional infringement on the right to protest that targeted Black Lives Matter protesters who took to the streets after Floyd’s murder last year.
“This is an opportunity for the Legislature to say, ‘Yes, we’ve got more of a response than just the anti-protest legislation,’” Powell said.
DeSantis, though, hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the police reform bill if it does get to his desk. Powell said he’s had conversations with DeSantis’ staff and believes he’ll give it a “strong look.”
- Gray Rohrer, South Florida Sun Sentinel