Duval County House Republican Kiyan Michael is sponsoring what supporters call “Curtis Law” on March 21, 2023 (Photo credit: Mitch Perry)
Patricia Ward’s son Curtis was murdered at the age of 16 in 1997.
The pain of losing her child was exacerbated, she says, by the fact that she couldn’t get access to what was going on in his case. That led her to begin organizing in Jacksonville to help change the law in Florida that doesn’t require law enforcement to provide basic information regarding the investigation of a crime to the affected family members.
She’s now a member of the group Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a national organization with chapter in eight states that made their annual trek to Tallahassee on Tuesday. One of the bills they’re pushing is what’s called “Curtis’ Law,” legislation that would allow immediate family members of a murder victim under 18 to see criminal investigation information and records.
The bill is informally named for Patricia’s son.
“For two years I had to fight for basic information about his investigation,” she told the crowd of what appeared to be more than a hundred people crammed into the 4th floor rotunda in the Capitol.
Ward said that it was during a period of pain and agony in grieving over his death that she “decided to turn pain into purpose.”
“I wrote down the basic information I wish I had when my son was first killed. That information turned into a bill that I called “Curtis’ Law.”
The legislation (HB 233) is being sponsored in the Florida House by Duval County Republican Kiyan Michael and passed its first assigned committee last week in the Legislature.
“It’s been my honor to sponsor Curtis’ law bill,” said Rep. Michael, a Navy veteran who was elected to office last November. “God Bless every one of you all who is here, everyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one.”
Duval County House Democrat Angie Nixon also addressed the audience.
“You all know from your own experiences that a public safety system that neglects crime survivors will fail to keep us safe,” she said. “Your voices must be heard by my colleagues and other policy makers whose responsibility is to keep us safe. True safety comes with investments in trauma support, violence prevention, intervention and rehabilitation. Only then can we end the cycles of trauma and tackle the root causes of crime that plague too many in our communities.”
Nixon said that it’s all too personal for her, as she has lost two of her cousins to gun violence.
“Both of my uncles were sick and distraught and even more so because there was often radio silence that came from law enforcement in terms of learning more about the case and who hurt and killed their two sons. That just prolongs the healing that they need to move forward in their lives, and we have to stop that.”
There are two other pieces of legislation that the group is tracking this session.
One of those bills (HB 593) would amend existing state law to align state and local policy by ensuring that records sealed at the state are also sealed at the county level (the Legislature passed a bill in 2019 to automatically seal some records with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that did not lead to convictions).
Another bill (HB 1263) aims to improve the state’s probation system’s treatment of low-level offenses by expanding and expediting the use of the Alternative Sanctions Program (ASP) to focus on accountability for low-level rule violations. The bill would make ASP – rather than prison – presumptive for initial low-risk rule violations and make it optional for low-level misdemeanor arrests like driving on a suspended license.
Aswad Thomas, the national director for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, said that Florida and the country spend billions of dollars on a criminal justice system that does not help victims of crime.
“We’re relying on a justice system that provide so many barriers for victims to get their resources and services that they need,” he said. “We’re relying on a criminal justice that provides so many barriers from people who are coming out of the justice system to get housing to get jobs, things that help our economy and things that we know will stop the cycle of violence.”
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