Crist seeks more civil rights power

Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 10:20 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Charlie Crist said Monday he plans to file legislation aimed at expanding his ability to investigate and punish civil rights violations.

Crist said in remarks at Martin Luther King Day celebrations in Fort Lauderdale and St. Petersburg that he needed expanded authority to investigate civil rights violations without having to show that alleged violators are also committing some sort of economic crime.

Under current law, the state Attorney General doesn't have the power to directly charge companies with discriminating against someone based on their race.

Instead, lawyers in the attorney general's office often rely on economic crimes statutes in such cases, essentially arguing that violators are engaging in unfair trade practices when they treat certain customers differently than others.

In doing so, they are often taking a chance that they may not be allowed to argue that in some courts, depending on the judge.

"This proposed legislation will give this office the same enforcement authority as that of the federal government, and ensure that any damages recovered through civil actions would be returned to those who were the victims of discrimination," Crist said.

The measure Crist is pushing would say that the attorney general can seek damages of up to $10,000 per violation on behalf of anyone who is discriminated against and seek to force the violator to stop the practice.

Any change would have to be made by lawmakers, who go into session March 4.

Crist didn't say whether he'd found a legislator to sponsor the measure for him.

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