TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – During the debate by the Florida Senate Rules Committee on Monday night, Senator Tom Lee (R-Hillsborough) expressed his concern about voting to remove former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.
“I think it would set a very dangerous precedent here in Florida and I can’t do that lightly,” Lee said during debate at the end of a marathon day of evidence, testimony and public comment.
Then, Lee told the Committee that he would not vote on the matter that night. Ultimately, his fellow Republicans did not need his vote to recommend removal of Israel to the full Senate. By a 9-7 party line vote, Republicans voted for Israel’s removal rather than to reinstate him.
On Tuesday, Lee said he’s still sorting through the evidence and ramifications of voting on this matter, clearly still undecided about the potential long-term impact a removal of Israel could have on other sheriff’s and constitutionally elected officials.
“Embedded in this is a precedent that would allow a Governor to suspend any Sheriff for the single act of a single deputy on one given day and that just defies common sense,” Lee told CBS 4 News.
“This is a pretty anti-law enforcement decision we’re making.”
Lee provided an example saying that in the future there could be a Democratic governor who dislikes an aggressive policing policy by a Republican sheriff and subsequently removes him from office. In Lee’s estimation that would leave every Florida sheriff “looking over their shoulder.”
Lee said that could leave Florida sheriff’s with “second-guessing of their policies.”
During Monday’s hearing, Lee also decried the political nature of the vote on Israel’s removal or reinstatement. He told CBS 4 News that there was a lobbying effort to try and influence his vote, saying that in the lead to the Committee vote he had conversations with the Lieutenant Governor, George Levesque, attorney for Governor Ron DeSantis and surrogates for the Governor. Lee said the lobbying effort did not surprise him.
“They want the decision of the Governor to be upheld,” Lee said.
But as Tuesday wore on, Lee admitted that he is still seeking information and expertise, hoping to speak with the special master, attorney and former Republican State Representative Dudley Goodlette, who oversaw Israel’s Senate trial over the summer and recommended that Israel be reinstated. That recommendation came despite DeSantis’ Executive Order that alleged Israel failed to properly train his deputies, oversaw deputies who failed to confront the confessed Parkland killer and changed the active shooter policy from “shall” to “may” giving deputies greater discretion over confronting an active shooter.
Lee said he hopes Goodlette is allowed to be on the floor of the Florida Senate for Wednesday’s debate and vote to present his report and answer questions as the state’s 40 Senators, 23 Republicans and 17 Democrats, decide whether Israel is removed or reinstated.
Lee said he still hasn’t decided how he’s going to vote but said based on the vote of the Rules Committee, which comprises 42 percent of the Senate, Lee pointed out that it’s likely “how I vote won’t matter.”