Florida Senate Reverses Course, Moves to Ban Arrests of Children Under 7

March 12, 2020by Gray Rohrer, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)
US-NEWS-FLA-GIRL-HANDCUFFED-OS

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — One week after a Florida Senate panel failed to take up a measure to prohibit the arrests of children under 10 in most cases, the full Senate voted Wednesday to approve a compromise version of a bill inspired by the arrest of a 6-year-old at an Orlando school last year.

An amendment prohibiting the arrest of children under 7 for nonviolent felonies was added to HB 7065, a bill that makes changes to the school safety measures passed in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.

Sen. Randolph Bracy pushed the provision in honor of Kaia Rolle, who was arrested at the Lucious and Emma Nixon Academy charter school in September after she threw a tantrum, kicking students and teachers.

“The police were called, she was handcuffed, and she was booked. She received a mugshot, she was fingerprinted,” Bracy said.

The measure includes an exemption so children who commit forcible felonies could still be arrested.

Rolle’s family enrolled her in a different school and has said she is still feeling the effects, and is afraid she or her friends will be arrested by police at other schools.

The move was a surprise, as the Senate had opted not to take up Bracy’s attempt to assert the measure into a different bill dealing with criminal justice.

Bracy tried again Tuesday but withdrew his amendment before receiving a vote, explaining he believed Senate leaders would have ruled it out of order because his original bill — which would’ve applied to children under 12 — was never heard in committee. That appeared to end the provision’s chances, as Bracy said he’d try again next year.

But all that changed Wednesday, with no explanation for the change.

“This doesn’t happen very often, so it’s much appreciated,” Bracy told Senate leaders. “Thank you.”

The rest of the bill would require investigators to probe false tips to the state’s FortifyFL system for reporting threats to schools and students; expands the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety commission from 16 members to 19 members; requires law enforcement officers to have access to civil citation and prearrest diversion data and allows the Department of Education to halt salary payments to school district superintendents if the district isn’t in compliance with school safety laws.

All districts and charter school governing boards would also have to work with law enforcement to adopt policies to reunite students with their parents when a school is evacuated or closed because of a school shooting or other man-made or natural disaster.

But the move also means there are officially two “Kaia Rolle Act” provisions in the bill. Bracy gave his amendment that title, but so did House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee of Miami to his amendment added last week that requires police departments to disclose their policies for arresting children under 10.

Bracy, though, wanted to go further and actually prohibit arrests for non-forcible felonies.

The reserve officer who arrested Rolle, Dennis Turner, was fired after an investigation showed he didn’t follow Orlando Police Department guidelines for arresting children. Turner also had a discipline history of allegations of excessive force and racial profiling.

Bracy filed his original bill in October following the arrest, but neither that bill nor a House version received a hearing. After a body camera video of the arrest was released, however, showing Rolle’s arms bound with twist ties as she screamed for help, it drew national attention and widespread outrage.

The bill now heads back to the House for a final vote.

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©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

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