Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said he sent the amendment to HB 89 before 9 p.m. on Wednesday to the printer, which he says is in time for the bill’s final reading and floor vote on Thursday. (UPDATE: It was filed on 8:50 a.m. Thursday). Thurston didn’t sit on any committees that approved the bill, which would shield people who fire warning shots in self defense from serving 10 to 20 years,
While the bill has sailed through committees garnering only two no votes from Democrats, Thurston said he had planned to vote against it because it unnecessarily expands the law. But he said he decided to file a repeal amendment, which won’t be received favorably by Republican leaders, after Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach explained to House members on Wednesday why he was amending it.
“I was surprised when he said he’s doing this to strengthen the ‘stand your ground; law,” Thurston said. “If that’s what he’s doing, it’s relevant to file an amendment to repeal ‘stand your ground.’”
Thurston, who is running for attorney general, reasons that while he was prepared to vote against the bill, he hadn’t planned to push for its repeal because that debate has already taken place without much progress toward overturning or changing it. But he said it became clear from Gaetz’s comments that Republicans were expanding the law’s reach, and decided it was time to draw attention to the gambit.
“I don’t think my chances are good,” Thurston said. “But I hope to have a broader discussion.”
HB 89 highlights frustrations Thurston is having not just with Republicans, but with the 44 other Democrats in the caucus. Most of them support the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City.
In an election year where polls show strong support for 'stand your ground', Thurston is one of the few Democrats to oppose Combee’s bill, which has the strong backing of the National Rifle Association.
Another bill with NRA backing is HB 7029 by Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala -- who is revered by the gun rights lobby. Dubbed the pop tart bill, it would prohibit schools from punishing children from playing with imaginary guns, or, as one boy did, chewing a pop tart into the shape of a gun. It sailed through committees receiving not one no vote.
“There were no objections to these bills when they came through the committee process,” Thurston told Democrats in a meetiing Wednesday afternoon. “No one voted against the poptart bill. That’s not a bill I would have expected would have gotten this far without ‘no’ votes. I plan to vote against it. Remember, it’s ok to vote against bills.
“We’re not here to make sure that things go smooth, and pretend that everything is fine in Tallahassee,” Thurston told Democrats.
Thurston and incoming House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said the bill is unnecessary.
“It’s really an unnecessary bill in my view,” Pafford said. “The Stand Your Ground bill started out as a quiet little bill. Sometimes there’s a lot of gifts to people for no reason at all. This bill preserves a school board’s authority, so what is it really doing? Ask questions is all I’m suggesting.”
Rep. Carl Zimmermann, D-Palm Harbor, is a teacher who is also facing a tight reelection fight. He says that the bill gives school boards the power not to discipline a student, which they didn’t have before. Other Democrats agreed.
Thurston said he knows that many Democrats won’t follow his lead tomorrow. But he’s optimistic, nonetheless.
“I’m sure I will have some supporters,” he said.