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Senate's criminal justice budget shaves inmate sentences

In an election year, every little detail matters -- especially in the state budget. The Senate's Criminal Justice budget includes one controversial provision that is already getting attention from Gov. Charlie Crist.

The language would shave 60 days off the sentences of nonviolent prison inmates who get a GED or vocational certificate and serve 85 percent of their sentence. It would apply to 370 inmates and 18 would be released immediately. The proposal would save $380,000.

The committee considered expanding it to all offenders, but election-year politics killed that proposal. Even as it stands now, a Crist spokesman said the governor opposes the gain time plan.

The committee chairman, Tampa Republican Victor Crist, acknowledged it was controversial but said he spoke with the governor's office and House budget writers, who are open to the measure. He said it's an incentive for inmates to get a degree that will help them re-enter the community.

In these dire financial times, the House Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sandy Adams made sure her budget didn't include early release programs. It's interesting to note that all three players here are running for office: Gov. Crist for U.S. Senate, Rep. Adams for Congress and Sen. Crist for county commission.

Sen. Crist's spending plan also includes language to make four traffic crimes into civil infractions, such as obscuring or altering a vehicle tag which is now a second degree misdemeanor.