Legislative Session Preview: Shevrin Jones targets no-cash businesses, community violence, revisionist history

For Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones, another Legislative Session means another shot at enacting policies to improve the lives of Floridians in and outside his South Florida district.

To that end, he’s filed nearly two dozen bills with various aims, from addressing student food insecurity and testing body cameras at a notorious women’s prison to adding more oversight and guardrails for property insurers.

Every measure matters, Jones said, but there are five about which he’s especially passionate.

The first (SB 106) would curb a growing trend of no-cash businesses in the state by prohibiting most brick-and-mortar operations from refusing paper and coin payments.

A similar measure Jones carried in 2022 died without a hearing. It’s already doing better this time around, having advanced through a first committee stop Dec. 5 with unanimous support.

If passed, SB 106 would apply to most businesses with physical locations that offer goods and services. It would not extend to parking facilities and businesses that offer accounting, architectural, engineering, financial advisory, insurance, interior design, software development, management and consulting services.

Transactions in which the consumer uses a cash denomination greater than $20 and single transactions exceeding $5,000 would also be exempt.

Navarre Republican Rep. Joel Rudman has filed an identical companion (HB 35) that awaits a first hearing.

Polling by the Pew Research Center found Black and older consumers are significantly more reliant on cash than White and Hispanic shoppers. Requiring businesses to accept legal tender, Jones said, ensures that all Floridians have access to physical goods and services no matter their banking habits.

“At a time when many businesses have transitioned to electronic-only means of payment, we must not forget about those individuals and families who do not have access to those forms of payment,” he said. “Everyone, regardless of their financial status or background, should have the ability to fully participate in the economy, and unfortunately today’s increasingly digitization has put up barriers to that type of entry.”

Another bill (SB 98) would establish a task force within the Department of Law Enforcement to review criminal justice system failures and the cause of high crime and violence rates in urban neighborhoods.

House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell is sponsoring an identical companion (HB 383).

The legislation became necessary, Jones said, after Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed funds that would have helped to address the problem.

“Last year, the Senate put ($5 million) in the budget for a community violence (grant), but the Governor vetoed it,” he said. “It’s my hope that we can get this across the finish line. It’s a good retread.”

Then there’s SB 100, titled “Ava’s Law” after Ava Thompson, an infant who was born prematurely in an Alachua County prison in 2021 and died at a hospital soon after. Ava’s mother, an inmate named Erica Thompson, said she screamed for someone at the prison to help her and her newborn but received none until it was too late — an assertion the Alachua Sheriff’s Office disputed.

If passed, SB 100 would require judges to offer pregnant women convicted of crimes an opportunity to defer their sentences for up to 12 weeks after delivering their child so the mother and newborn can receive adequate health care.

Jones has sponsored the bill every year since Ava’s death, including last year, when he cited it as his top legislative priority. The bill’s 2023 House companion, sponsored by Reps. Angie Nixon and Diane Hart, cleared the chamber floor but stalled once it reached the Senate.

Hart is again carrying the bill in 2024.

“I’m hoping we can get it passed this year, because I truly believe SB 100 is a step forward in ensuring there’s not another person who has to experience what Erica Thompson did,” Jones said.

If SB 100 passes, it wouldn’t be the first time Jones delivered aid to imprisoned women. As a member of the House in 2019, he successfully sponsored the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act,” which mandated that menstrual products be provided free in Florida correctional facilities.

Jones this year is also sponsoring SB 344, which would simply remove a requirement the state Board of Education adopted in July that public school students must be taught in African American history class “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Jones called the requirement “a slap in the face” to Black Floridians.

“We can’t be a laughingstock for this foolishness,” he said. “We can’t put forth legislation or curricula such as that, where people question our integrity and how we view true American history. It’s baffling that we even have to have this conversation.”

Another bill Jones is sponsoring, which pends filing, would establish resources for condo and homeowners association board members to learn about budgeting, maintenance and other subjects that fall under their purview.

Jones said Fleming Island Republican Sen. Jennifer Bradley has worked “extensively” with him on developing the measure.

“I have no doubt,” he said, “that whether I get it done through the bill process, amendment process or if she includes it in her own legislation, we’re going to see a world where in the aftermath of the collapse of Champlain Towers — which is now in my district — that everybody is well-equipped in managing these condos so something like that never happens again.”

Jones also hopes to secure appropriations to fund a Miami-Dade eviction-prevention program that would assist residents facing escalating housing and living costs and infrastructure projects in Miami Gardens and Opa-locka, among other earmarks.

The 2024 Legislative Session commences Jan. 9 and runs through March 8.

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

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