March 22, 2018

Two bills supported by Parkland families included in massive spending package

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The House and Senate are scheduled to vote on a massive $1.3 trillion spending package on Thursday and Friday, and the spending bill includes two bills that were a priority for the families of victims of the nation's deadliest high school shooting in Parkland. 

The STOP School Violence Act and Fix NICS Act are both in the package. Both bills received widespread support from both parties though a few Republicans were opposed to the Fix NICS Act, which aims to improve the background check system for guns by penalizing federal agencies that fail to report records, and increases federal funding for reporting domestic violence records.

"Today, we’re moving a little closer to turning the voices of the students marching across the country into action. While we still have so much work to do, I am happy to see some movement on bipartisan legislation I’ve worked on with Senator Rubio to help address gun violence in our country, including the Fix NICS Act and the STOP School Violence Act, which funds programs to help keep our schools safe," Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement. 

The spending bill also stipulates that the Centers for Disease Controls can conduct research on gun violence, a measure pushed by Orlando Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy after the Parkland shooting. A number of Republicans, including Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have backed the idea. Previously, the CDC was not allowed to spend money to research gun violence due to an amendment passed in 1996. 

"We are very happy that by the end of this week there should be close to a billion dollars over the next ten years available so that states can set up these systems to identify potential shooters and stop them before they kill anybody," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. 

March 21, 2018

Who’s going and who’s skipping? Where pols stand on Saturday’s March for Our Lives



On Saturday, young people around the world will participate in the March for Our Lives, urging lawmakers to find solutions that stop gun violence and mass shootings just over a month after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Broward County.

But South Florida’s Republican lawmakers in Congress either have no plans to attend, or won’t say what they’re doing on Saturday.

The March for Our Lives was organized by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students after a former classmate killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day. The students have also been coordinating with gun-control advocacy groups who generally do not support Republican officeholders. As of Wednesday, the organizers announced that 837 marches will take place around the world, including the main event in Washington, D.C.

Every Democratic officeholder from South Florida who responded to the Miami Herald has plans to participate, either in Washington or marches in South Florida.

Read more here.

March 20, 2018

Parkland families push for progress in Washington before the March for Our Lives



The families of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are among the most powerful lobbyists in Washington right now.

Lawmakers from both parties are willing to rearrange their schedules for an in-person meeting with a group of people who have already successfully shepherded a gun bill through the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature that was opposed by the National Rifle Association.

But the Florida Legislature is a part-time body, bound by time constraints to pass bills within a few weeks. Congress is under no such pressure, so many bills that have strong support from both parties can still languish for years.

“We don’t move as fast as Florida legislatures do,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said. “This Congress, with 500-something members, represents a vast and diverse country and as a result there are people in different parts of the country that have different views on these issues.”

The families of the Parkland victims have varying beliefs about access to firearms. Some, like Fred Guttenberg, want to ban all assault-style weapons. Others, like Ryan Petty, are concerned that a debate about banning assault weapons will shift the conversation into a partisan fight where nothing gets accomplished.

But the victims’ families are united behind three bills in Washington, and they’re pushing to get two of them passed before the March for Our Lives on Saturday. The families are discussing legislation through Slack, an instant messaging application that allows users to break different topics into channels of discussion.

“We’re probably one-upping the kids on that,” Petty said of the parents’ use of technology. “We put a proposal in one of the channels and then discuss it. I’ve been the liaison this past week, so as I was speaking with [Sen. Orrin] Hatch, Rubio, [Sen. Mitch] McConnell’s office, I posted the messages into our group.”

Petty said the parents come together and read the various bills and proposals in Slack, then one of them will write a statement either in favor or against the proposal before a final vote. The families don’t come out in favor or against something unless there’s a consensus.

But he acknowledges lobbying for legislation in Washington is “absolutely tougher” than trying to pass bills in Tallahassee. 

Read more here.

As kids prepare to march in Washington, this congressman is facilitator and consoler



Parkland’s congressman walked away from the spotlight.

Ted Deutch was standing on stage with Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, had been killed three weeks earlier in the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. An audience of a thousand people — children, parents and gun control activists — at T.C. Williams High School in liberal Northern Virginia were itching to hear from Deutch, who sparred with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio during a televised town hall debate a few weeks earlier.

As Guttenberg began to speak, Deutch inched away from the light illuminating the middle of the auditorium stage, giving Guttenberg the ability to make eye contact with the dozens of students and parents and drive the conversation about how best to prevent another school mass shooting.

Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who lives a few miles away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is playing the role of consoler and facilitator as thousands of his constituents prepare to travel to Washington for the March for Our Lives on Saturday. He’s met with the families of victims and survivors dozens of times, and he’s also devising a political gameplan that turns upset parents and students across the country into single-issue voters capable of changing elections.

“We have student activists who have inspired a lot of adults, who because of them are now single-issue voters, Republicans and Democrats,” Deutch said. “We’ve seen some big-name Republicans come together to form groups to say if you aren’t committed to keeping our communities safe by getting weapons of war off of our streets, then we’re not going to support you. My colleagues now have been doing events in their districts, town hall meetings, where they tell me that for the first time there are high school kids who are coming out and they’re coming out in droves.”

Deutch’s message on guns, which doesn’t stray far from the liberal orthodoxy of banning assault weapons, limiting magazine capacity and implementing universal background checks, was well received among the attendees in Northern Virginia hearing him for the first time.

“Clearly, his constituents want him out here,” said Mary Monroe, a 38-year-old teacher from Alexandria who hadn’t heard of Deutch before his speech. “I was very impressed he came to our town hall with [Virginia Democratic Rep.] Don Beyer. To me, that just shows how much he cares.”

Deutch is also close with the Parkland students who are planning the March for Our Lives in Washington. He brought them to meet high school students in Maryland two weeks after the shooting, and sat down with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School politics club in January, less than a month before the shooting.

In the middle of Deutch’s picture from January was Emma González, the Parkland student who garnered international attention after she called out pro-gun lawmakers in a speech the weekend after the shooting.

“Congressman, thank you for fighting the good fight,” Parkland student and March for Our Lives organizer Cameron Kasky said recently on Twitter.

Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina Joann Petty, was killed at Stomenan Douglas, doesn’t agree with most of Deutch’s positions on guns. But he said Deutch has been helpful to every family dealing with the loss of a loved one.

“He’s clearly had strongly held beliefs and despite those strongly held beliefs he’s been able to still play an advocacy role for the families,” he said.

Read more here.

March 13, 2018

A conservative Parkland student helps set the agenda in Washington



Kyle Kashuv was in a bind.

The 16-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, who opposes gun control, had just finished a press conference with Sen. Marco Rubio and the family of a Parkland shooting victim on Capitol Hill, and his next engagement was coming up.

One problem: He needed someone to adjust his tie, which was left in a knot so he could slip the loop around his head.

“Can you help me with this?” Kashuv asked a reporter and a Senate aide as he fiddled with his phone. “We’ve got to call an Uber to the White House.”

Kashuv, the high school junior who vaulted to national prominence as a conservative counterweight to the vocal Parkland students who favor tighter gun-control legislation, is back in Washington for second week of high-profile meetings, and he’s setting the agenda in the nation’s capital.

Senators from both parties are rearranging their schedules to speak with him, television channels are clamoring to get him on air and he even brokered a Skype conversationbetween Rubio and YouTube video blogger Jake Paul. He has already met with President Donald Trump once, and plans to be at the White House before and during the March for Our Lives on March 24th.

“In the media [Trump] is portrayed as ignorant and unknowing and cold, but in real life he’s very smart and very quick and he’s very caring,” Kashuv said. “When I met with the president, first it shocked me that I met with the president but... he was just so nice. I think it’s amazing that in the busiest day of his entire administration with the steel tariffs and North Korea, he found the time, took everyone out of his office, and we sat there and talked for a while and that’s something that very rarely occurs.”

Kashuv and his 19-year-old right-hand man, Michael Gruen, who coordinated Kashuv’s meetings on Capitol Hill and the White House with help from former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, aren’t in Washington solely for the photo-ops. They want Rubio and others in Congress to pass a bill that provides funds for school safety and coordination between school districts and law enforcement.

Read more here.

March 09, 2018

Here’s what kind of weapons Marco Rubio thinks should be OK for 18-year-olds to buy

Congress Gun Violence


Three and a half weeks ago, Marco Rubio walked into an arena of 7,000 grieving Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, parents, teachers and alumni with a message: Young adults should not be able to buy rifles.

“I absolutely believe that in this country if you are 18 years of age, you should not be able to buy a rifle and I will support a law that takes that right away,” the Florida Republican said at the town hall event in response to a question from Fred Guttenberg, a Parkland father whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was killed in the shooting.

On Friday, hours before Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that would ban the sale of all guns to adults between the ages of 18 and 21, Rubio qualified his stance on what kinds of guns young adults should be able to buy.

In two television interviews, Rubio stated that young adults should be able to buy shotguns and bolt-action rifles.

A CBS reporter asked Rubio if he had made up his mind on statements he made during the town hall about banning gun sales to young adults and considering a ban on high-capacity magazines.

“To be clear, I said all semiautomatic rifles. I think bolt-action, hunting rifles and shotguns and things of that nature is not what we’re talking about,” Rubio said. “The state of Florida has actually done that and I am willing to support something that does that.”

Read more here.

March 08, 2018

Parkland dad who grilled Rubio on national TV pleads with senators for assault-gun ban

Congress Gun Violence


Fred Guttenberg couldn’t sit down.

His 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was murdered by a former student on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and he stood before a dozen Democratic U.S. senators on Wednesday, voice trembling, as he laid out his demands.

After finishing his prepared remarks, which included a plea to pass an assault-weapons ban and a threat to vote out lawmakers who refuse to change gun laws, Guttenberg’s fist shook. He raised a picture of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, a screen shot from a recent video where Loesch turned over an hourglass and declared that “time is running out” for those who stand in the way of the influential gun lobby.

“If this was put out by a terrorist organization, we would be raising the terror threat level in this country,” Guttenberg said.

His emotional testimony was part of a hearing organized by Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill Wednesday. The Republican-controlled Senate didn’t announce any hearings with parents and survivors of some of the nation’s worst mass shootings, so Democrats staged their own.

The witnesses included people affected by gun violence from Parkland, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, three of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Most of the hearing was dominated by the personal stories of fathers, mothers and siblings whose lives were upended by gun violence.

David Hogg, a Parkland student who has become one of the most prominent national voices opposing gun violence in recent weeks, joined the hearing via Skype. He laid out a five-point legislative plan he says will decrease the chances of a future mass school shooting: allowing the federal government to research gun violence, digitizing records of gun sales, establishing universal background checks on all gun purchases, banning high-capacity magazines and banning assault-style weapons.

“Now is the time we need to take action, because how many more children need to be slaughtered?” Hogg said.

Read more here.

March 07, 2018

Gun debate divides House Democrats as they split over whether to oppose school safety legislation

Dem CaucusThe tensions that have divided the nation over gun control have also split the Florida Legislature's Democrats as a bitterly divided House Democratic caucus voted 21-9 Wednesday to oppose the school safety bill because what many consider a "poison pill"  that will introduce armed school personnel into Florida schools.

Democrats took the vote just before the House was set to vote on SB 7026, which is expected to pass narrowly and be sent to the governor.

As Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky stood in the back of the room, Rep. Robert Asencio of Miami moved that the House Democrats vote in a block against the bill, arguing that the optional proposal to put armed personnel in Florida schools was too risky to pass the bill. Black lawmakers warned that the policy will disproportionately threaten blacks students or even black armed school personnel whom law enforcement may misidentify as the gunman in a active shooter situation. 

But several Democrats urged their colleagues to reject that approach because they believe the bill before lawmakers is better than no bill at all. 

"From a strategic standpoint, I don't think a caucus position adds anything other than the appearance that unfortunately, some of us that feel it is necessary to vote for the bill, will be outside of the caucus,'' said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat who represents Parkland.

He noted that noting that Democrats have already inflicted pain on Republicans by forcing them to take recorded votes on dozens of Democratic amendments that were rejected on Tuesday.

"We put them on the board on issues that we've never been able to put them on the board in the six years I've been here,'' he said.. "We created a record that will haunt them for a generation of elections."

Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, who also represents Parkland urged them to reject a caucus position because it they look fractured.

"We don't look unified and I don't think it serves us well to not be able to pull a caucus position together," she said. "We have never taken controversial issues up where we know this room doesn't all feel the same." She said she will vote against the caucus as others will and added, "I don't think it's smart for this group to show that kind of mess."

Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, opposed being told what to do but he said he couldn't recall "having to cast a vote that made me as sick as this has made me. Because I think I'm going to vote for someone to die and the question is who and how many - and that would be sick,'' he said. "I don't care who is where or what the NRA wants. For me, I have to look myself in the mirror and live with the vote that I cast today."

But several black legislators urged resistance, arguing they could force House Republican leaders to amend the bill and take out the provision opposed by the governor to arm school personnel.

Rep. Barbara Watson of Miami urged her colleagues to "try and stay in a party line because we have them on the ropes. They are short four votes." 

She offered a note of optimistic that others said they had: "If we can carry this today, it will force them to give us something better."

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, the Orlando Democrat who was elected after the Pulse shooting, said he understood the position of Parkland-area representatives like Jacobs and Moskowitz. But he noted he had been in the same position.

"They have extended session because they can't agree on a handful of line items," calling the original scheduled end of session on Friday a "fake deadline." "Why not ask them to extend session because we can't agree on a meaningful gun safety package that was slapped together in three weeks that is half baked, that makes no one happy?...We can get better from this Legislature, and I think we do it by standing together."

But Rep. Larry Lee of Port St. Lucie told his colleagues their hope was misplaced. He has decided not to run for re-election and has concluded "change is not going to come from this legislature. It's not going to come within this system that we have. Change is going to come from the outside and I'm going on the outside. I'm going to work with those kids, because we would not be having this discussion if it weren't for those kids."

The caucus then voted on the motion. Rep. Lorann Ausley, Lori Berman, Ben Diamond, Nick Duran, Katie Edwards-Walpole, Joe Geller, Kristin Jacobs, Jared Moskowitz, and Matt Willhite voted no.

Before ending the caucus meeting, Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa urged members to respect any decision to break the caucus position. 


"No one should be bullied for their decision or their vote,'' she said. "We made the vote that we think best serves our communities."


Miami Herald reporter Elizabeth Koh contributed to this report. 

Photo by Mary Ellen Klas: Rep. Lori Berman, D-West Palm Beach, asks for debate as members of the House Democratic caucus discuss whether to take a caucus position on the school safety bill, SB 7026. 

March 06, 2018

Senators who voted for gun bill received 'gift' of tar and feathers from 'Bradford County children'

Jar of tar and feathersShortly after Florida senators narrowly passed a bill that raised the age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 and imposed a minimum three-day waiting period on gun purchases, several Republican members received a gift hand delivered to their offices: a jar of tar and feathers. 

"From the Children of Bradford County,'' reads the note, written in red tape across one side of the jelly jars. "The tar and feather enemy of freedom award," they read on the other side. On the top, the jars are decorated with a plastic "poop" emoji and a glued feather. 

Senators aren't sure who distributed the gifts to their offices but aides say it wasn't children. They do know that the backlash has begun in the wake of the 20-18 vote that moved the school safety bill through the Senate Monday. 

Eleven of the Senate Republicans who voted for the measure is either termed out or does not have to face voters in November. Six of them, however, are up for re-election in in November and must now face the wrath of their gun lobby if they attempt to put someone up against them in a primary. They include: Sens. Jeff Brandes, Kathleen Passidomo, Keith Perry, Wilton Simpson, Kelli Stargel and Dana Young.

Marion Hammer, head of the National Rifle Association's Florida chapter, denied they have threatened any legislators. "We don't make threats. And we never discuss our strategy,'' she told the Herald/Times. 

The NRA posted an alert to its members, claiming that "Senate leadership strong-armed Senators to vote in favor of the bill," and warned that House leaders are now "trying to bully Second Amendment supports to get them to vote for the gun control package."

"YOU and every other law-abiding gun owner is being blamed for an atrocious act of premeditated murder,'' they wrote. "Neither the 3-day waiting period on all rifles and shotguns, raising the age from 18 to 21 to buy any firearm, or the bump stock ban will have any effect on crime.  Despite that fact, Senate leaders rammed through gun control as part of the bill."

The NRA urged members to email members of the Florida House and urged them to reject the amendment. 

 Photo credit: Austin Knipper.


March 05, 2018

Rubio, Nelson bill seeks crackdown on people who fail gun background checks

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

People who fail a background check trying to buy a gun could face increased risk of prosecution under a bill introduced Monday by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and other lawmakers.

The NICS Denial Notification Act, which had previously been introduced in the House, requires federal authorities to alert state law enforcement within 24 hours when individuals "lie and try" to purchase firearms, according to a release from Rubio's office.

State officials could then decide to prosecute or "keep an eye on these denied individuals for signs of future criminal activity." The Justice Department would have to publish an annual report about prosecutions.

Only 13 states that use NCIS get notified when someone fails a background check, according to Rubio's office.

"In the 37 states and the District of Columbia that rely on the FBI to run some or all of their background checks, state authorities generally are not aware when prohibited persons fail background checks run by the FBI. Individuals who are willing to 'lie and try' to buy a gun may be dangerous and willing to obtain guns through other means," read the release.

"As a result, these states and D.C. lack critical law enforcement intelligence that they could use to try to keep their communities safe."

The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Rubio and Nelson along with Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Chris Coons, D-Del.,  John Cornyn, R-Texas, Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.