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Break-In Rescue Bill Gets Senate Approval

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A proposal (SB 308) that would allow people to break into locked vehicles to help senior citizens, disabled adults, children or pets was approved without opposition Tuesday by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Meanwhile, people who leave pets unattended inside vehicles could be charged with endangering the health or well-being of the animals under a separate bill that cleared its first House panel.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, would shield people from civil liability if they break into vehicles and have "good faith belief that forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because the elderly person, disabled adult, minor, or domestic animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm if not immediately removed from the vehicle."

The bill would require people to contact local law enforcement and also wait for first responders to arrive.

In Florida, 72 children have died from vehicular heatstroke since 1998, including four this year, according to a staff analysis. Another 17 seniors have died from vehicular heatstroke since 2010.

Shortly before the Senate committee heard Benacquisto's bill, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee voted 9-4 to approve a proposal (HB 329) by Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, that in part would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to intentionally or recklessly leave an animal unattended in a locked vehicle.

An identical bill in the Senate (SB 200) has not been scheduled for committee appearances. A House companion (HB 131) to Benacquisto's bill has already cleared one committee and goes before the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.