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Florida Sen. Chris Smith to Gov. Rick Scott: delay of 'Stand Your Ground' review 'disappointing,' 'puzzling'

State Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, the incoming Democratic leader, has sent Gov. Rick Scott a letter calling the governor's delay to review Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law "disappointing." Scott had proposed that a special task force examine the law following the death of Trayvon Martin, the Miami Gardens 17-year-old shot and killed last month in Sanford. 

Smith and other lawmakers had requested that Scott speed up convening the task force. The governor's office told him expediting the task force's work before more details of the Trayvon case become available would be "premature."

"Apparently you or your spokesman misunderstood the intention of my letter," Smith wrote Scott.

"Governor, my request to expedite the task force is not just about Trayvon Martin or skittles and iced tea. It is about the ambiguity of a highly contentious law that since 2005 has left a string of killings throughout Florida and the invocation of 'stand your ground' as a shield of immunity from prosecution. It is about the confusion on the part of the public, law enforcement and our judicial system, and the haphazard interpretation and application of the law. And it is about your puzzling willingness to delay for up to a year a critical review of Stand Your Ground by a task force you proposed, despite a wealth of existing data and cases already available for dissection."

Scott was asked at a news conference Wednesday whether he would accelerate the task force and he said he didn't see a need to do that. The task force should meet "once the investigation is over," he said.

"If we determine that we're not treating citizens in the state properly every official up here would agree to the same thing -- we'll make the change. But the right thing to do is let's first get through this investigation. Let's find out what happened here. Let's make sure justice prevails. Then, we will have this task force."

Click after the jump for the full text of Smith's letter.

March 28, 2012

 

The Honorable Rick Scott

Governor

State of Florida

Office of the Governor

The Capitol

Tallahassee, Fl 32399

 

Dear Governor Scott:

I was extremely disappointed in the reported response to my letter of yesterday, requesting that you expedite the convening of the special task force you first proposed to “thoroughly review Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and any other laws, rules, regulations or programs that relate to public safety and citizen protection” and to empower the Legislature to act.

Through a spokesman, I was informed that your position was: “We still don't know the effect the stand your ground law might have in this case, so it would be premature to begin evaluating facts when more facts are yet to emerge. Gov. Scott believes we need to be thoughtful and thorough as we deal with this awful tragedy and for those reasons he will not interfere with the investigation or prematurely expedite the work of the task force."

Apparently you or your spokesman misunderstood the intention of my letter.

Governor, my request to expedite the task force is not just about Trayvon Martin or skittles and iced tea. It is about the ambiguity of a highly contentious law that since 2005 has left a string of killings throughout Florida and the invocation of “stand your ground” as a shield of immunity from prosecution. It is about the confusion on the part of the public, law enforcement and our judicial system, and the haphazard interpretation and application of the law. And it is about your puzzling willingness to delay for up to a year a critical review of Stand Your Ground by a task force you proposed, despite a wealth of existing data and cases already available for dissection.

Since taking office, the Legislature has accommodated a good portion of your economic incentives requests, appropriating millions of tax dollars you stated were necessary to lure new companies to the state.

Without firm assurances that employees’ lives are safe as they go about their personal business in public places, no amount of financial incentives will be able to overcome a perception that Florida has transformed from the “Sunshine State” to the “Shoot First” state.

In early 1993, then-Governor Lawton Chiles moved decisively to offset the growing fear among international tourists that Florida had become the “Wild West,” a devastating economic threat for a state so dependent on the tourism industry.

In less than two months following the initial attacks, Gov. Chiles had convened a “Governor’s Task Force on Tourist Safety.” He issued an executive order changing rental license plates’ identifying marks, deployed additional law enforcement to guard highway rest stops, and moved to include gun safety in the call for a special session convening later that year. He did not wring his hands asking for more time as the latest attack was investigated. And he didn’t wait for another death to confirm the dangers already known to be lurking on Florida’s roadways.

A preventable death is exactly what you’re risking now. Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law has been on the books since 2005. We have more than enough evidence already on hand of the deadly confrontations and self defense claims to begin a closer examination of the law’s track record and whether changes are needed to stop its abuse. There is absolutely no reason the public should accept any delay when seven years of history already exist.

By all means, let your special prosecutor continue with her investigation. But, for the sake of public safety, let the Task Force immediately begin theirs and empower the Legislature to act.

Sincerely,

 

Senator Chris Smith

District 29 

--MARC CAPUTO, PATRICIA MAZZEI AND MARY ELLEN KLAS

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