February 10, 2016

Love and hate for Miami Sen. Diaz de la Portilla who hasn't taken up gun bills

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@ByKristenMClark

Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla has received a lot of praise and a lot of fury, ever since the Miami Republican announced his decision last month that he wouldn't hear a bill allowing concealed weapons on the state's public college and university campuses.

It was the second-straight year that Diaz de la Portilla made that decision, so it wasn't an unforeseen outcome for the legislation, which is now all-but-dead despite easily passing the House last week.

Diaz de la Portilla has grown increasingly reluctant to take up a similar bill that would allow concealed-weapons permit-holders to openly carry -- which the senator said this week is "on life support."

He told the Herald/Times today that it won't be on next week's judiciary agenda, and the committee might hold only one more meeting after that.

He acknowledged he's been getting "hate mail" for not hearing either the open-carry or campus-carry bills, but he shrugs off the criticism.

"I don't feel any pressure at all," he said. "I'm going to make what I think is a good decision based on sound policy reasons and it's no different than any other issue."

That's not stopping gun-rights advocates -- who are livid -- from trying to turn up the heat and persuade him to change his mind, particularly on campus-carry.

"Senator Diaz de la Portilla has taken it upon himself to unilaterally decide the future of a bipartisan bill that the vast majority of legislative members support," Florida Students for Concealed Carry state director Bekah Hargrove said in a statement this week. "He has made a mockery of the American legislative branch and turned Florida’s legislative process into a one-man show, without respect for the safety of college students."

She added: "He should be removed from his office for ignoring his duty to put bills up for a vote." Download Open Letter

Both the student group and Florida Carry have accused Diaz de la Portilla of refusing to meet with Shayna Lopez-Rivas, a rape victim who has testified at every legislative hearing that was held. She has said that if she had had the ability as a student to carry a gun, she feels she wouldn't have been raped.

"He has refused repeated requests to meet with supporters of Pro-Second Amendment bills," Florida Carry said in an email blast today urging its 37,000 members to call on Diaz de la Portilla to take up both campus-carry and open-carry.

Meanwhile, groups that support gun-control regulations and keeping guns off college campuses are thanking Diaz de la Portilla for his "courage" in choosing not to take up the bills, which are priorities for the powerful National Rifle Association.

"I write to commend you for your courage and steadfast commitment to student safety," Dana Bolger, executive director for Know Your IX (a national campus sexual assault prevention organization), wrote in a letter to Diaz de la Portilla that was given to the Herald/Times. Download Know Your IX Letter to Senator Diaz de la Portilla (The same letter was also sent to Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.)

"I can say with confidence that allowing students to carry concealed weapons on campuses would have dangerous and potentially fatal consequences for Florida students, particularly for women and other marginalized students," Bolger wrote. "Some proponents of HB 4001 and SB 68 have suggested that allowing students to carry guns will protect them from becoming victims of sexual assault. This could not be further from the truth."

February 08, 2016

Open-carry bill 'on life support' in Florida Senate, judiciary chairman says

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@ByKristenMClark

Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, says a proposal allowing some gun-owners to openly carry handguns in Florida is "on life support" and he will decide this week whether to grant a hearing on it.

"I have some serious concerns about open carry in light of what happened in the House last week," Diaz de la Portilla told reporters this afternoon. "I am concerned that it may become a vehicle for some very, very bad amendments. I think that's what we learned last week. ... Because of those concerns, I'm very, very seriously considering not hearing it at all."

Legislation allowing more than 1.5 million concealed-weapons permit-holders in Florida to openly carry easily passed the state House last week, mostly along party-lines. An amendment was added to it during floor debate, which would allow lawmakers to carry concealed on the chamber floors and in official committee meetings. Those locations are among several so-called "gun-free" zones designated in state law, where even concealed weapons are prohibited.

When asked if lawmakers should be able to pack heat on the chamber floors, Diaz de la Portilla said: "I don't think that's necessary. I think FDLE does a terrific job in protecting us."

He has been deliberating for months on whether to hear the Senate's version of the open-carry bill (SB 300), which has been at a standstill before his committee since it passed its first Senate panel in October.

If Diaz de la Portilla doesn't grant it another hearing, it effectively kills the Senate bill -- all-but-guaranteeing it won't become law this session.

Drawing the ire of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, Diaz de la Portilla already made the call against hearing another controversial gun bill that also passed the House last week. That one would allow concealed weapons on public college and university campuses.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

February 04, 2016

Florida House member from Aventura 'mortified' by 'mistake' on campus-carry vote

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@ByKristenMClark

CaptureRep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, says he's "mortified" and "very embarrassed" today by what he calls an honest mistake Wednesday night.

As the House was called to vote on a controversial measure to allow concealed handguns on Florida's public college and university campuses, Geller said he pressed the wrong button -- not only for himself, but for his seatmate, Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando.

That's why the two Democrats came in as "yes" votes in the 80-37 result, which passed the bill out of the chamber. (The only Democrat to intentionally vote for it was Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who co-sponsored the bill.)

"It was absolutely a mistake. I just hit the wrong button and they locked the machine too quickly for me to fix it," Geller told the Herald/Times.

The voting board was open for nine seconds, during which time members could cast their votes.

During House floor speeches earlier in the night -- and the night before when amendments were considered -- Geller had railed against allowing guns on campuses, so his "yes" vote raised a few eyebrows.

He and Bracy changed their votes to "no" within about five minutes of the vote, which is reflected in the House record but not in the vote tally itself.

Geller said that Bracy was on the other side of the House chamber -- talking to another representative about a different bill -- when the voting happened, so Geller pushed Bracy's button for him, as they had agreed to.

The practice, though frowned upon, is allowed under House rules, so long as the member is in the chamber when another votes for him and as long as that other member does so on the member's "specific request and direction."

Geller said he normally double-checks the board, but was briefly distracted by someone who came up to speak with him.

And then it was too late.

He said he's gotten calls from constituents today about his recorded vote, and he's kicking himself for what happened.

"I own it; I own the mistake," he said. "I'm sorry for it. I regret it. I'm mortified by it."

Photo credit: Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, speaks on the House floor during the 2015 session. (Florida House) // The Florida Channel

February 03, 2016

Bill addressing backyard gun ranges heads to Gov. Rick Scott

@ByKristenMClark

Perhaps the least controversial gun-related measure before the Legislature this session is on its way to Republican Gov. Rick Scott's desk for his signature.

SB 130 would make it a misdemeanor crime to fire a gun outdoors recreationally, including for target shooting, in a primarily residential area.

It's aimed at protecting public safety by prohibiting backyard gun ranges in densely populated areas. Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, said the bill was prompted by the growing prominence of such ranges, which he said are set up "sometimes in a haphazard fashion."

The Senate passed it unanimously last week, and the House did the same Wednesday evening.

16 Florida House members broke party-lines on open-carry amendment

@ByKristenMClark

Last night's debate over allowing concealed-weapons licensees to carry handguns openly went much as excepted, with questions-and-answers and votes on amendments generally falling along partylines.

But on the night's biggest vote -- an amendment to allow lawmakers to carry concealed in official meetings of the Florida Legislature (full details here) -- some Republicans and Democrats broke party lines, several from more moderate districts.

The 120-person chamber has 81 Republicans and 39 Democrats.

The 72-43 vote on the controversial amendment by Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, included support from five Democrats and opposition by 11 Republicans.

Continue reading "16 Florida House members broke party-lines on open-carry amendment" »

Florida Senate president: Gun bills are "in trouble"

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@ByKristenMClark and @MaryEllenKlas

Although the Florida House is expected to pass two controversial gun bills this afternoon, the odds are continuing to diminish that they'll become law this session.

Speaking to reporters today, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the proposals are "in trouble," as far as the Senate is concerned. One of the bills allows concealed weapons permit-holders to carry openly and another lets them carry concealed on public college and university campuses.

Gardiner has been consistent that the fate of the bills rests with Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where both bills await another hearing. Diaz de la Portilla said he won’t hear the campus-carry proposal in his committee for the second year in a row, and he indicated last week he could change his mind and not hear the open-carry plan, either.

Gardiner confirmed today that outcome is likely.

"I think now he has some concerns about open carry," Gardiner said of Diaz de la Portilla. "It's not my intent to pull those bills out of committee, so I would say, yeah, they're probably in trouble."

Diaz de la Portilla has not returned messages from the Herald/Times seeking comment.

For weeks, some Republican leaders in the Florida Senate haven't been as enthusiastic about the proposals as their counterparts in the more conservative House.

The open-carry bill was amended Tuesday evening on the House floor to also include a provision allowing Florida's 160 state lawmakers to carry concealed in official meetings of the Legislature, a location that's currently one of several so-called "gun-free zones" designated in state law.

Gardiner said he supports removing that exemption.

"To me, if you're taking away an exemption, especially for somebody else, you should live by that same standard," Gardiner said, "so it should be all the way across the board, but I don't know if we'll even get that bill to make that point."

Photo credit: Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, speaks to reporters with the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau during a pre-session interview late last year. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

VIDEO: Florida House members react to debate over open carry

@ByKristenMClark

Florida House members were in session until nearly 10 p.m. Tuesday night, spending much of the evening debating two high-profile gun bills: open carry and campus carry.

The open-carry bill was amended with one significant change: To allow lawmakers to carry concealed handguns in legislative sessions and official meetings. It's one of the handful of areas specified in law where licensed gun-owners can't carry concealed.

Here's what Republican and Democratic leaders had to say about that amendment following last night's session, and read our full story here about the evening's debate.

Floor votes on both the campus-carry and open-carry measures are expected this afternoon in the House.

 

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

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@ByKristenMClark

The governor plays cornhole at the Florida Capitol, lawmakers huddle for initial budget talks and controversial gun bills get a floor vote in the House. Here's what we're watching today:

* Proposed plans for the 2016-17 budget will go before the House's and Senate's full appropriations committees. Both chambers have scheduled daylong meetings to debate and revise their respective proposals, which were released Friday. (House Appropriations, 8 a.m., 212 Knott Building. Senate Appropriations, 9 a.m. 412 Knott Buiding)

* Gov. Rick Scott is elevating his efforts to persuade the Legislature to support his call for a $1 billion tax cut and $250 million in business incentives. In a rare move, he's hosting a rally at the Florida Capitol, starting at 11 a.m. It will feature "leaders from around the state" and a specialty cornhole set branded with Scott's slogan of "1st For Jobs."

* The House Finance and Tax Committee, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, plans to formally unveil its "bipartisan" tax cut package -- and "much anticipated" hashtag -- during a press conference after the committee's meeting, set for 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

* More than 100 employees of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa plan to visit with House and Senate members to help draw support for a $3 billion gaming compact, which the Seminole tribe and the governor signed but which the Legislature is hesitant to back.

* The House convenes for session at 3. After heated debate yesterday evening, the chamber is expected to pass two controversial gun bills and consider a slew of other legislation on the table.

Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott's office

February 02, 2016

Under revised open-carry bill, Florida lawmakers could carry concealed guns in legislative meetings

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida's 160 lawmakers could inconspicuously pack heat in the state House and Senate chambers and legislative meetings, under a provision tacked on to a controversial open-carry handguns proposal that's expected to pass the Florida House on Wednesday.

The amendment by Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, was one of almost two dozen proposed changes that representatives vetted -- and a handful they approved -- during three hours of debate that stretched past 9 p.m. Tuesday over two high-profile gun bills.

The measures alter how 1.4 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida can carry handguns.

The Republican-dominated House accepted Wood's idea by a 72-43 vote to allow lawmakers to carry concealed guns in legislative sessions and official meetings, but it's possible the change could prove fatal for the measure, which already faced a tough climb in the Senate.

Both the open-carry measure and another that would allow permit-holders to carry concealed on public university and college campuses are likely to pass the House. But across the Capitol, Senate Judiciary Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said he won't hear the campus-carry proposal in his committee for the second year in a row, and he indicated last week he could change his mind and not hear the open-carry plan, either.

The two measures are endorsed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, but opponents cite numerous safety concerns.

Heading into Tuesday's House debate, more than 40 amendments were filed to the open-carry bill but almost half were later withdrawn; those were mostly rebuttals that bill sponsor and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, initially sought.

All but one of the others -- Wood's -- were filed by Democrats, as an attempt to chip away at the proposal and add exclusions to where concealed-carry permit-holders could openly carry. Each Democratic amendment failed by wide margins with almost entirely Republican support.

Continue reading "Under revised open-carry bill, Florida lawmakers could carry concealed guns in legislative meetings" »

44 amendments filed to Florida House open-carry bill ahead of today's scheduled floor debate

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@ByKristenMClark

The discourse over gun rights versus gun control will be on full display in the Florida House this afternoon.

The chamber's 120 representatives are set to debate a high-profile and controversial measure that would allow 1.4 million people with concealed weapons permits in Florida openly carry their weapons statewide.

As of late Monday, 44 amendments -- including four that were subsequently withdrawn -- had been filed to HB 163,  a little more than half of them by Democrats seeking to shore up or chip away at what they described last week as flawed legislation.

They're unlikely to be successful in the Republican-majority chamber, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- the sponsor of the bill who says he wants to "vindicate" Floridians' Second Amendment rights by legalizing open carry -- filed 21 of the proposed changes, many of them substitute amendments that appear to counter the Democratic proposals.

Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, has brought back an amendment he attempted but later withdrew during last week's lengthy and heated hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. It would allow lawmakers to carry concealed in legislative sessions and official meetings.

Among the Democratic amendments, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, of Coral Springs, leads the pack with 16 proposed changes. Rep. Amanda Murphy of New Port Richey has proposed four others, and Rep. Joseph Geller of Aventura offered two.

Their proposals include:

Continue reading "44 amendments filed to Florida House open-carry bill ahead of today's scheduled floor debate" »