Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced proposed legislation on Jan. 26 for a battery of law-and-order initiatives.
Speaking at a press conference in Miami, the Republican governor told reporters he seeks crackdowns on fentanyl manufacturing and sex offenses against children.
He also hopes to make it easier to get a death sentence in a capital case and wants uniform bail standards across the state.
The proposal, which would have to be passed by Florida lawmakers, targets fentanyl made to look like candy.
It would make it a first-degree felony to possess, sell, or manufacture the drug in that form, and would specify a mandatory life sentence and a $1 million fine if the trafficking targets children.
If approved by the Florida Legislature, the measures also would toughen bail laws, limiting who can be released prior to a first appearance before a judge.
That would ensure judges are the ultimate decision-makers and would require a detention hearing before trials for serious crimes, he said.
The legislation also would require convicted child rapists to serve life in prison and would explore options for enforcing the death penalty against them.
DeSantis noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck this down in the past.
But the current Supreme Court justices might not be inclined to do that, he said.
Saying ‘No’ to No-Cash Bail
The legislation DeSantis wants lawmakers to pursue would petition the Florida Supreme Court to establish a uniform bail schedule for the state.
He called attention to the “no-cash bail” trends of some states, such as New York, which have seen crime surge, as some suspects are arrested, released almost immediately, then commit new offenses.
DeSantis cited the case of a woman in another state who was charged four times in seven days.
After the first three arrests, she was immediately released.
The legislation would toughen penalties for sex crimes by broadening the list of crimes ineligible for “gain time”—time off prison sentences for good behavior.
The expanded list would include convictions for attempts at sexual misconduct, such as sexual battery.
And DeSantis, a former federal prosecutor, is calling for the state to change capital trial procedures so that juries don’t have to vote unanimously to recommend the death sentence.
He cited the trial of the school shooter in Parkland, Florida, who killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018.
Convicted killer Nikolas Cruz got life in prison in July 2022.
Relatives of the victims decried the sentence as a miscarriage of justice. He addressed the issue on Jan. 23 at the Florida Sheriff’s Association Winter Conference in St. Johns County.
Some of the proposals fly in the face of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, such as one striking down the death penalty for child rape, DeSantis acknowledged.
But the current makeup of the Supreme Court, considered more conservative now, might not be inclined to enforce those rulings, he said.
“So there was a Supreme Court case that was done … within the last 10, 15 years, [and voted] five to four,” DeSantis said. “And they said the Constitution does not allow capital punishment for anything short of a homicide.
“And the problem with that is, you know, you have some of these sex predators that will abuse very, very young children, [and] do it habitually.
“I’m just thinking to myself, you’re ruining those kids’ lives,” he said. “And sometimes these are, like, 6, 7, 8-year-old kids.”
‘These People Don’t Care’
“And so we believe that that precedent was wrong,” DeSantis, the father of three young children went on.
“We do not believe the Supreme Court, in its current iteration, would uphold it. And so we are going to be exploring ways to facilitate some capital trials if you have the worst of the worst.”
“These people don’t care. They are unrepentant. They don’t care about these children. They will do whatever they can to satiate themselves at the expense of very, very vulnerable people.”
The measures proposed in the legislation would add to anti-crime initiatives already taken, which has brought the state crime rate to a 50-year low, DeSantis said.
And he contrasted Florida with other states and cities that, he said, “endanger their citizens by making it easier to put criminals back on the street.”
“I think what we found out across the country is: Don’t take safe communities for granted. New York went through all this in the 70s and 80s. It was a disaster.
“They brought in [Mayor Rudy] Giuliani and then they had a real change in approach,” he said. “And it was really, really good policing. It was very difficult work, but it made a huge, huge difference.
“They dealt with small offenses because they knew if you allow that to happen, it builds to bigger offenses. And they ended up creating one of the safest big cities anywhere in the world. And that was for a number of years.
But, he added, “they’ve basically turned their back on these policies, and they have a persistent crime problem, such that people are even being driven away from living there.”