BY BUDDY NEVINS
State Rep. Katie Edwards is being given an award Saturday for a bill that failed.
Katie Edwards, D-Plantation
The honor — the 2013 Legislative Champion from the 2,000-member Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers – is for a bill which would have lowered penalties for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs like morphine and Oxydocone.
She is due to get the award at the group’s convention in West Palm Beach.
The bill passed three committees in the House. That’s an enormous achievement for a freshman Democratic like Edwards.
HB 159 died waiting to be heard by the full House when the Legislature adjourned May 3.
“When I ran for office, one of my goals was to focus on our criminal justice system and to address the exorbitant cost of incarcerating low risk, nonviolent offenders,” said Edwards in a news release from the House Democratic Office. “I am honored that the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has recognized me for my work toward achieving that goal.”
The bill would have changed the minimum mandatory sentences for very small amounts of some illegal drugs.
The threshold of going to prison for three years and being fined $50,000 is now possession of four grams. It would have been raised to 14 grams. An ounce is 28.3 grams.
Other slightly higher thresholds were changed, too. The highest was the possession of 28 grams, which would result in a 25 sentence and a $500,000 today. Under Edwards’ bill, that maximum would kick off at 200 grams, but the fine would have been raised to $750,000.
Legislative analysts estimated that the savings to taxpayers from Edwards’ bill would be $18 million over five years. The first figure is a conservative estimate and analysis said it could be as high as $58 million.
Not a great deal of money in a multi-billion budget. And standing up for lower sentences for druggies is not a popular stand.
Yet Edwards persisted.
Or as Derek Byrd, president of the defense lawyers’ group said: “This past legislative session, Representative Edwards sponsored bills that displayed great courage and common sense. Representative Edwards also spoke her mind and stood up for what she believed in while defending personal freedoms.”