A House proposal that would increase a threshold for felony theft charges from $300 to at least $1,000 passed its final committee Wednesday, preparing it to go to the House floor for a vote.
Efforts to raise the threshold amount for the first time since 1986 have stalled in the Legislature in the past. This year’s proposal (HB 589) has steadily moved forward in the House, as criminal-justice reform advocates say there is momentum to pass such measures. [In inflation-adjusted dollars, the $300 threshold in 1986 was the equivalent of about $650 to $700 today.]
Yet, past arguments against the proposal have re-emerged during this year’s legislative session, as demonstrated during a House Judiciary Committee debate Wednesday.
The Florida Retail Federation, whose members include Target, Wal-Mart and Walgreens, opposes easing retail theft sanctions.
James Miller, a spokesman for the organization, said his group’s focus is “specifically on strengthening punishment for organized retail crime and the repeat offender.”
Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, echoed those concerns.
“I have concerns that we are sending the wrong message to those who are willing to commit crimes,” Hill said. “The message we are sending them is that anything less than $1,000, we are giving them a pass on it.”
Hill argued the law shouldn’t even have a minimum amount for theft because people should just abide by “thou shalt not steal,” which is in the Ten Commandments.
Under the bill, someone who steals retail property that is valued at $300 or more could still be charged with a third-degree felony if the offender coordinated with other people to commit the crime, or if the offenders stole another item from a different store within a 48-hour period.
Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican who is sponsoring the bill, called the adjustment “long overdue.”
“I agree that ‘thou shalt not steal,’” he said. “Stealing a phone is wrong. But the question is, is a lifetime of lost wages and a lifetime of being a felon, is that a punishment that is equitable?”
Since 2000, at least 39 states have increased the threshold dollar amounts for felony theft crimes, according to the House staff analysis of the bill.
The conservative-leaning James Madison Institute for Public Policy Studies also came out in support of the proposal, arguing that in every state where the felony theft threshold has been increased, property theft rates have gone down.
A provision dealing with felony theft offenses is included in a Senate criminal justice bill.
The Senate plan would increase the threshold amount for a third-degree felony theft offense from $300 to $750.
The Senate bill (SB 7072) would also require that multiple acts of retail theft that occur within a 90-day period be aggregated to determine the value of the property stolen, in an effort to crack down on organized retail theft.
–Ana Ceballos, News Service of Florida