May 06, 2017

In final session votes, lawmakers trade 'Stand Your Ground' for religious liberties in schools

Stand Your GroundBy Jim Turner
News Service of Florida

A change to the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law is heading to Gov. Rick Scott after the Senate agreed late Friday to go along with a House proposal.

The House and Senate both wanted to change the law but had clashed on a legal issue in the bill (SB 128).

But with time running out in the legislative session Friday, the Senate voted 22-14 — with Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford joining Republicans in support — to accept the House proposal.

The move came in exchange for getting the House to accept the Senate’s more far-reaching language on a separate measure (SB 436) dealing with religious expression in public schools.

“I thought that it was a reasonable resolution to both matters, and they’re both constitutional issues,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the “stand your ground” bill. “And we wrapped it all up in a bow, and we resolved them both in a satisfactory manner.”

More here.

Photo credit: AP

May 03, 2017

Dems' guarantee of swift vote on water bill killed Republicans' last-minute gun bill

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@ByKristenMClark

House Republicans quietly agreed Tuesday to pull from the floor a gun bill not yet considered at all by the chamber, after trading with Democrats to ensure a priority of the Senate president — also not previously vetted by the House — would be voted out that same day.

It’s a prime example of the type of deal-making and horse-trading that’s commonplace in the Florida Legislature during the final days of session.

Had SB 616 been heard on the House floor Tuesday as planned, the Republican-led chamber likely would have easily approved it on Wednesday. But instead, Democrats were able to use the power of their 41-member caucus — something they can’t often do — to convince House Speaker Richard Corcoran not to hear the bill, after all.

“Today, you saw the power of the Democrats,” House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa, said. “It was a good day, a very good day.”

More here.

Photo credit: AP

May 01, 2017

Steube's courthouse gun bill goes immediately to House floor -- with no vetting there

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@ByKristenMClark

In an extremely rare move, House leaders are rushing a gun bill that none of their members have considered to the floor during the final week of session.

Lawmakers in the House will take up SB 616 on Tuesday — a Senate-approved proposal that would allow concealed weapons permit-holders to store their guns with security while visiting state courthouses.

MORE: “Visitors’ guns could be secured in Florida courthouses”

The Rules & Policy Committee, chaired by Miami Lakes Republican Rep. Jose Oliva, put the bill on the daily floor calendar after senators passed it on Friday.

Because the bill did not have a House companion, it’s brand new to lawmakers in that chamber, and they won’t have a chance to first vet it in a policy committee.

The move is highly unusual and also deprives members of the public a chance to address their representatives at a public meeting before the floor vote.

More here.

Photo credit: House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, talks with House Rules & Policy chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

April 25, 2017

Gun bill affecting Florida courthouses passes final committee, goes to Senate floor

Stand Your Ground (2)@ByKristenMClark

A proposed law that would let 1.7 million conceal-carry permit-holders temporarily store their guns with security while visiting Florida's courthouses is on its way to the Senate floor.

SB 616 from Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube passed its final committee Tuesday afternoon. Members of the Rules Committee endorsed the relatively non-controversial measure -- with at least a couple Democrats opposed -- after offering no discussion or debate.

More details here.

Photo credit: AP

April 17, 2017

No further hearings on gun bills in Senate Judiciary after all

Stand Your Ground (2)@ByKristenMClark

Earlier this month, Senate Judiciary chairman Greg Steube had told the Herald/Times he wasn’t giving up on holding a hearing for some of his more controversial gun bills this year, which proposed to eliminate some “gun-free” zones in Florida.

But it appears the Sarasota Republican is backing off.

His committee will meet for the final time on Wednesday and, while it’s a packed agenda, there are no gun bills slated to be heard. (Here’s the agenda.)

Full details here

Photo credit: Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota. AP

April 10, 2017

Most gun bills have stalled in the Legislature. Many say Anitere Flores is the reason why.

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@ByKristenMClark

When Anitere Flores declared, unprompted, a month ago there were a lot of controversial gun-rights measures she wouldn’t support this year, the Miami Republican state senator truly set the tone for the Legislature’s gun debate in 2017.

With the session half over, only a handful of the two dozen pieces of gun-related legislation proposed this year have been considered at all, and of those, only a couple have a viable path at actually becoming law.

The House approved three such bills this week — two of which could likely be enacted this year, including highly divisive changes to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law — but lawmakers in both chambers and from both parties predict those measures will be the only ones on the table for this session.

Several attribute Flores — who is No. 2 in the Senate behind President Joe Negron, R-Stuart — as the reason.

“I think the members — not just myself, but some others — we’re a little gun-bill fatigued,” Flores told the Herald/Times in late March.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. Steve Cannon / AP

April 06, 2017

House approves "Stand Your Ground" shift, but it's different than the Senate

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@ByKristenMClark

Criminal defendants in Florida who are charged with a wide array of violent acts — including murder, assault and domestic violence — could soon have an easier go at claiming they were justified to act in self-defense, legally stood their ground and don’t deserve to be prosecuted.

After failing to pass a single committee in the House last session, a controversial NRA-backed proposal that would shift the burden of proof to prosecutors during pretrial hearings for “Stand Your Ground” cases is on the verge of becoming law this spring.

Despite vehement objections from state attorneys, gun-control advocates and the entire Democratic caucus, the Republican-led Florida House on Wednesday passed SB 128 — on a 74-39 party-line vote — after representatives made changes from the version the Senate approved last month.

Floor debate lasted for nearly 90 minutes, as several Democrats spoke at length to warn of increased violence and other “irreversible and even deadly” consequences they say the legislation will cause.

“Flipping the burden of proof will do nothing more than increase the carnage that has been inflicted on our communities,” Fort Lauderdale Democratic Rep. Bobby DuBose said.

Full story here.

Photo credit: More than a dozen volunteers with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America watch state House members debate proposed changes to Florida’s “stand your ground” law on April 5, 2017. The gun-control advocacy group opposes the legislation, SB 128. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

March 16, 2017

Some religious schools could be allowed to have guns

Florida Legislature (2)
@ByKristenMClark

Private schools with a religious institution on-site could decide for themselves if they want to allow armed security or concealed guns on their property, under a proposal that got preliminary approval from a House subcommittee on Wednesday.

The measure (HB 849) from Polk County Republican Rep. Neil Combee would carve out certain religious private schools from the Florida law that prohibits anyone except law enforcement officers from carrying guns in K-12 schools and colleges and universities, regardless of whether those schools are public or private.

Combee said houses of worship — such as churches, mosques or synagogues — that also have a daycare or school on their property cannot have armed security, because doing so would violate the state’s ban on guns in schools and certain other “gun-free” zones. 

More here.

Photo credit: Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk County, presents a concealed weapons bill to the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Wednesday, March 15, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla. Steve Cannon / AP

 

Miami Republican Anitere Flores defects, opposes 'Stand Your Ground' changes

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@ByKristenMClark

This could be the year the Republican-led Florida Legislature succeeds in enacting a controversial change to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law that prosecutors warn could lead to a flood of self-defense claims and would force state attorneys to essentially try cases twice.

For the second consecutive session, Florida senators on Wednesday approved a bill (SB 128) from Fleming Island Republican Sen. Rob Bradley to shift the burden of proof — from the defendant to the prosecutor — during the pretrial phase of “Stand Your Ground” cases.

The Senate voted 23-15 on Wednesday, mostly along party lines and drawing praise from Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

“If a prosecutor doesn’t have the evidence to prevail at this immunity hearing ... the prosecutor does not have sufficient evidence to win at trial,” said Bradley, himself a former prosecutor. “Innocent people will not go free as a result of this bill; this bill isn’t about creating loopholes.”

Now it’s up to the House to finish considering its bill (HB 245), which already passed the milestone of clearing the same committee that abruptly killed it before the 2016 session began. It faces only one more hearing — a signal it’s marked as a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

In Wednesday’s Senate vote, Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — Negron’s No. 2 in the chamber — broke party ranks and voted with 14 Democrats in opposition, even though she previously approved the bill twice in committee earlier this year.

More here.

Image credit: Florida Channel

March 08, 2017

Bondi, Putnam, Atwater say they didn't seek out gun exemption. Senator says one of them did.

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@ByKristenMClark

Three of Florida’s four highest-ranking elected officials — and potentially the lieutenant governor and the state’s 160 lawmakers, too — could be able to carry guns almost anywhere in the state under a special carve-out in Florida law being considered by the Legislature.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, who filed SB 646, said one of the three members of the Florida Cabinet “approached” him about proposing the exemption, which would let the Cabinet members carry concealed anywhere in Florida where federal law doesn’t prohibit guns, so long as they have a concealed-weapons permit.

That means — unlike most of the rest of the state’s 1.7 million concealed-weapons permit-holders — those statewide elected officials could be armed in the state’s 15 “gun-free zones,” such as in public schools, airport passenger terminals, police stations, government meetings, athletic events and bars.

RELATED: "These are gun law changes Florida lawmakers could take up in 2017"

Steube would not say which Cabinet member — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — wanted the law changed for their benefit. Each of those offices is elected by voters statewide; Gov. Rick Scott oversees Cabinet meetings but is not himself a member of the Cabinet.

“I had a member that approached me, and they don’t have FDLE or trooper security full-time,” Steube told reporters Tuesday, referring to the security provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Highway Patrol.

However, spokespeople for Bondi and Atwater, and Putnam himself explicitly told the Herald/Times that they had not asked for the provision or were involved with Steube’s bill.

Read more here.

Photo credit: From left: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Attorney General Pam Bondi sit with Lieutenant Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera and Gov. Rick Scott during the opening day of the 2017 legislative session on Tuesday, March 7. Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times