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Senate votes to protect gun trust fund; Ds cry foul

Senate Democrats, fresh off a health care committee meeting this morning in which they were reminded of the state's health care funding shortfalls and patient waiting lists, tried but failed to defeat their chamber's passage of a bill that puts Florida's gun permit trust fund off limits for budget balancing.

The Senate voted 31-9 to pass SB 1158 by Sen. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, which would prohibit the state from raiding the gun trust fund to help balance the budget.

"This is a bill that is about public safety," Dean said. "This is to protect the trust fund for background checks for the people who want to carry guns in Florida."

Opponents said it's not fair or practical, given the state's projected budget deficit, to protect one trust fund while the state continues to raid funds like the Lawton Chiles Trust Fund (meant for health care) to cover budget needs in schools.

"This sends the wrong message," said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston.

"It is just not right to put a lock box on the gun trust fund at this time," echoed Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, is sponsoring a bill to protect all trust funds from being raided. St. Petersburg Democrat Sen. Charlie Justice urged senators to vote for that bill instead.

In some respects, the "protection" isn't much protection at all. Senate budget chief JD Alexander noted that the state's transportation fund is already held off limits in statute, yet legislators raided it anyway.

"It's about intent," Alexander said of the legislation. "It's not fully a prohibition."

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