TALLAHASSEE – An appeals court recently issued a ruling that would have meant a number of Florida counties had to pay the state as much as $100 million in predisposition costs before underage offenders were sentenced, but recent legislation signed into law at the end of March by Gov. Rick Scott made the court case a moot point.
The ruling from the 1st District Court of Appeals involved a dispute over the division of payment for predisposition costs. Until the new legislation was signed into law, counties had to pay 57 percent of the fees to house juvenile offenders while that state paid 43 percent. A number of Florida counties filed suit, alleging the unbalanced nature of the fees was unfair.
Under Senate Bill 1322, originally introduced by father-son legislators Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Chris Latvala, the counties and state now will equally split predisposition costs. The measure, which Scott signed into law last week, requires the counties to pay $42.5 million for 2016-2017, after which the state and counties will each pay 50 percent of predisposition costs, which goes toward the costs to house juvenile offenders.
While the Latvalas claimed that the new law will benefit Florida's counties by saving them $12 million during the first fiscal year, Donna Davis, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Tampa, is skeptical of the legislation and the juvenile detainees that it will affect.
"These Republican senators are getting attaboy for coming up with this solution to the massive number of youths that are detained by the state of Florida," she told the Florida Record.
Davis explained that Hillsborough County has the highest number of youths being admitted into the juvenile detention system, many of whom are black. While the sheer number of detained individuals makes the new law attractive to counties such as Hillsborough, Black Lives Matter is fearful that the new law will only exacerbate the problem of overpopulation in prisons.
"My concern is not the brass tacks of this bill," she said. "My concern is about the statistics, where between the years 1998 and 2008, the growth in the prison population in Florida was 42 percent, while the actual general population only increased by 19 percent."
Davis explained that with the increased population in prisons has come an increase in the codification of black lives in Florida, and more specifically Hillsborough County, where she claims the black community is being oppressed.
"There is no question about who is bearing the brunt of this, of which community is having their backs broken by these policies," Davis said.
Davis said the law will ultimately not benefit the counties, but rather will have the appearance of helping the counties while continuing to injure those who have suffered most: the black community.
"The best sleight of hand in politics is to take something from you that is valuable, but at the same time make you believe that you are being given something," Davis said. "People should not be fooled by the legislation."