Proposal would revamp retail theft charges

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An effort to raise a legal threshold that triggers felony charges passed its first hurdle in the Florida House on Tuesday, with some pushback from representatives of retail stores.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, is proposing legislation (HB 589) that would increase the threshold amount for third-degree felony retail theft from $300 to $1,000 or more.

The bill would also change state law to no longer make it a third-degree felony to steal fire extinguishers, stop signs or property from construction sites.

The proposal was approved Tuesday by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, with the support of organizations seeking reforms to the criminal-justice system. But the Florida Retail Federation was against the proposal because it would loosen penalties for retail theft.

A similar proposal in the Senate would raise the threshold to $1,500.

If the legislation is approved,  the state's Criminal Justice Impact Conference has determined that it would have a "significant" impact on reducing the state's prison population.

A staff analysis of the bill, however, said local government may have higher county jail populations, considering those arrested would have misdemeanor charges and not felonies.