ID theft bill — at least in present form — would funnel cash to S. Fla. counties

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday approved a bill (SB 1472) that would toughen penalties for identity theft and send money to three counties in South Florida for beefed-up law enforcement.

The bill, filed by Sen. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Royal Palm Beach, would create a second-degree felony for fraudulently using personal identification information of certain groups of people, including people 60 years old or older, disabled adults and veterans.

Another part of the bill would impose $151 surcharges on people who are found guilty or plead no contest in identity-theft cases. Of that amount, $75 would go to law-enforcement agencies in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties to investigate identity theft. Another $75 would go to state attorneys in the three counties to prosecute the cases. The remaining $1 would go to clerks of court.

Rep. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who presented the bill to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said it focuses on the three counties because they are the “epicenter” of identity theft in Florida. But Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, questioned why money collected because of crimes in Duval County should be sent to South Florida.

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, assured Gibson that her concerns would be addressed when the bill goes to the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, which Bradley chairs. “Sen. Gibson, we’re going to fix that,” Bradley said.

Also Monday …

Public records laws: Information connected to auto accident victims, red light cameras, safe houses and family trust companies would be limited under seven exceptions to the state’s public records laws passed Monday by the the House Government Operations Subcommittee. The panel also approved a bill (HB 1151) that would broaden the open records statute by a 13-0 vote. Provisions include mandatory training of employees on open records law, and specifying and possibly lowering fees required to get copies of records. The bill broadening the open records law is opposed by the Florida League of Cities, which believes that some elements of the bill could open the door to increased litigation over open records cases.

Mug-shot websites: A bill (SB 298) that would prohibit websites from charging individuals a fee to remove their jail mug shot has made its way through two Senate committees and is awaiting a hearing in a third. The bill targets companies that obtain booking photos from law enforcement agencies and put them online along with the person’s name; the companies then charge arrestees up to hundreds of dollars to remove them or face continued embarrassment. Under the bill, an individual could obtain a court order for removal, and the website would be subject to a $1,000-a-day fine if it doesn’t comply.

Medical marijuana: A bipartisan trio of state lawmakers is convinced the initiative to bring medical marijuana to Florida will pass in the fall, but they are intent on passing legislation this session that would legalize a marijuana-based extract for children with epilepsy. In a panel discussion, Democrats Sen. Jeff Clemens, of Lake Worth, and Rep. Katie Edwards, of Plantation, were joined by Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Fort Walton Beach, to pledge a push for passage of so-called Charlotte’s Web, a non-intoxicating oil extracted from the marijuana plant. The legislators say that putting in place infrastructure for distribution of the oil will help the state prepare for handling the logistics of medicinal marijuana, which would go into place in 2015 if voters approve in November.

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