Democrat Jason Pizzo Votes for Anti-Accountability Bill

Democratic Leader Pro Tempore Jason Pizzo broke with other Senate Democrats during last week’s Committee on Criminal Justice meeting, approving a bill that would limit civilian review boards which provide oversight and accountability on controversial local policing issues.

SB 576 seeks to severely curtail civilian review boards, preventing local governments from investigating police incidents and practices — the latest in a string of legislation asserting state control over what local cities and counties fund with their own tax dollars.

The bill is sponsored Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, former chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

The bill passed on a 5-2 vote, with Pizzo joining all Republicans on the committee to vote yes. Democratic Senators Tina Polsky and Bobby Powell voted no. Several civil rights organizations spoke against the bill, including the Florida NAACP, ACLU of Florida, and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). A representative for the Fraternal Order of Police — which endorsed Ron DeSantis for president — spoke in favor of the bill.

Civilian oversight

“At a time where society’s perception of law enforcement varies widely, unsurprisingly due to the lived experiences of marginalized groups, improving the public sentiment of law enforcement through local initiatives should be a top priority of this Legislature,” said NR Hines, policy strategist at the ACLU of Florida in a written statement.

“Unfortunately, the only solution the Legislature sees is to once again remove local power while they continue to waste our tax dollars on bad policies that restrict our freedoms and undermine our democracy,” Hines continued.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Rules approved SB 184 which seeks to criminalize filming police even in public places in some instances.

State law already prohibits any action that would “interrupt, disrupt, hinder, impede, or interfere with” a first responder’s ability to perform their duty. Statute also already prohibits threating physical harm.

SB 184 would go far beyond that, essentially criminalizing constitutionally protected acts of free speech like observing government agents performing taxpayer funded work in public.

According to a staff analysis of SB 184, questions remain regarding its impact on due process for Floridians.

“Questions may arise when determining how the warning requirement and 14-foot requirement are to be applied,” the analysis reads.

Due process requires that a penal statute use “language sufficiently definite to apprise those to whom it applies what conduct on their part is prohibited. It is constitutionally impermissible for the Legislature to use such vague and broad language that a person of common intelligence must speculate about its meaning and be subjected to arrest and punishment if the guess is wrong.”

A vague statute, “because of its imprecision, may also invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

SB 184 passed the Rules Committee, including a “Yes” vote from Democratic Minority Leader Lauren Book.

The votes on both bills signal a marked departure for the two highest-ranking Senate Democrats, who both publicly supported the Black Lives Matter movement and committed to championing police reform measures following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

“I think about George Floyd who was murdered in broad daylight by police officers,” said Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder and Director of Equal Ground Education Fund, a Black-led voting rights organization.

“If you were 14 feet away, the obscurity of being able to record what actually happened and present that as evidence in court would probably not have rendered the verdict that it did, and that was a guilty verdict.”

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