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'Anti-riot' bill could cost taxpayers millions, fiscal analysis warns

'We're essentially going to be writing a blank check,' Rep. Andrew Learned says
Posted at 7:27 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 19:27:11-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida's "anti-riot' bill could cost taxpayers millions.

A new fiscal analysis released Friday warns the legislation's enhanced penalties for violent protesters could fill hundreds of additional prison beds.

The former director of the University of West Florida Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development, Florida economist Dr. Rick Harper, conducted the research.

He wrote a larger prison population means a steeper price tag for the state prison system, which already has a $2.7 billion budget.

"While the number of additional years that would be served is uncertain, extrapolating from state estimates, we project that 270 to 720 additional prison beds at any given time will be occupied by persons incarcerated under the new and enhanced charges, with an associated incarceration cost to Florida taxpayers of $6.6 to $17.5 million per year," the report said.

Florida Economist Dr. Rick Harper
Florida Economist Dr. Rick Harper's analysis showed incarceration costs to taxpayers could increase as high as $17.5 million more each year.

The price tag goes even higher when factoring in a convict's economic impact, post-prison.

"Taken together, higher state spending for incarceration and decreased economic self-sufficiency for individuals following incarceration are expected to result in $25.1 million to $67.1 million in lower-income and increased taxes," Harper wrote. "These costs represent the worsened economic outcomes to the community and the state from HB1/SB484."

Democrats have voiced concern about HB 1's fiscal impact since the first discussions in committee.

State Rep. Andrew Learned, D-Riverview, at one point called the policy a "blank check."

State Rep. Michael Gottlieb
Democrat lawmakers like State Rep. Michael Gottlieb worry the broad language in the bill would incarcerate too many people, potentially costing millions of dollars.

"We're essentially going to be writing a blank check because we don’t know what this is going to cost," he said during a committee debate last month. "That’s what we're being asked to do in the middle of the worst fiscal crisis in a generation."

Republicans have pushed back. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami, told committee members justice outweighed the cost.

"The fiscal impact is not lost on me," said Rep. Fernandez-Barquin. "But if you participate in violence or commit a crime, you must pay a penalty, even if it's a burden on the law-abiding, tax-paying residents."

As Florida finally gets an idea of what that burden is, HB 1's future in the Senate is becoming clear as well.

Senate President Wilton Simpson
Senate President Wilton Simpson says he plans to send the anti-riot bill to the appropriations committee.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, said Thursday, the Appropriations Committee would hear the bill in an upcoming meeting.

"Our intention will be to refer that bill to committee and look to be taking that up in the very near future," he said.

Many wondered whether the Senate had an appetite for the legislation after its version, SB 484, failed to get through committees. Criminal Justice Chair Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, blocked the policy by adjourning without taking it up for discussion.

Simpson's decision to direct HB 1 to Appropriations rekindles hope for the GOP that their major agenda item will succeed this year.