Florida releases inmates after serving as little as 18 percent of their sentences because of prison overcrowding, yet the state has 1,500 vacant beds in community correctional facilities, state Sen. Locke Burt told a Senate panel Wednesday. The Appropriations Committee then approved a bill sponsored by Burt that would let the state put less serious offenders with less than 36 months left to serve in those beds, freeing up space in the prisons for more hardened criminals. Existing law limits community corrections only to those inmates with less than 24 months remaining to be served. Burt, R-Ormond Beach, said the bill would bring up to $3-million into state coffers annually because many inmates in those facilities have jobs and the state gets 45 percent of their wages. Opponents contended the bill would put prisoners who are a threat to the public in the minimum security facilities.
Commercial fishermen won a legislative battle Wednesday, but their war against efforts to ban the use of nets in Florida waters will continue. The Senate Natural Resources and Conservation Committee tabled a net study bill at the request of its sponsor, state Sen. Robert Johnson, R-Sarasota, after it became clear he lacked sufficient votes for approval. The bill would have directed the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission to conduct a study of the impact of net fishing on marine resources. The study would have provided the basis for a decision by the Legislature next year on whether to ban or restrict net fishing. However, the commission could conduct such a study on its own, and the issue will be on the agenda for its meeting next month, said its executive director, Russell Nelson.